Monday, February 4, 2013

Gangsters and 'Gangstas' In Federal Court Trials

By George Anastasia

Kaboni Savage
There are gangsters and then there are 'gangstas.'

The difference was seven floors apart in the U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia today.

On the 15th floor a jury continued to deliberate without reaching a verdict in the racketeering conspiracy trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants. By most accounts, they would be described as the gangsters.

Meanwhile, on the eighth floor, a different jury heard opening arguments in the racketeering trial of convicted North Philadelphia drug kingpin Kaboni Savage and three co-defendants.

In underworld and law enforcement circles, Savage, once described by a top Philadelphia police official as "pure evil," would carry the gangsta label.

The Savage case involves 12 murders, including the October 2004 firebombing of a North Sixth Street rowhome in which six people, including four children, were killed. Save and co-defendants Robert Merritt and Steven Northington face possible death sentences if convicted.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer, one of the prosecutors in the case, told the jury this morning that Kaboni Savage ordered that bombing in an attempt to intimidate and silence Eugene "Twin" Coleman, a former drug-dealing associate who had begun cooperating against hm.

Coleman's mother, Marcella, 54, was killed in the early morning fire along with Coleman's 15-month old son. The four other victims, a woman and three children, were also related to Coleman. The woman was his cousin. The children were two nephews aged 15 and 12, and a niece, age 10.

The firebombing has been described as one of the most horrorific examples of witness intimidation in the Philadelphia drug underworld, an underworld where witnesses and their families are frequently targeted.

"No witness, no crime," Troyer said Savage told an associate on one of hundreds of secretly recorded conversations gathered by the FBI during a lengthy investigation into the 37-year-old cocaine dealer.

Savage, a former professional boxer, is already serving a 30-year sentence for a 2005 conviction for drug dealing. It was while awaiting trial in that case, authorities say, that he ordered the firebombing.

"He ruled by fear, by intimidation and by murder," said Troyer who in a two-hour opening statement played snippets of some of the tapes the jury will hear during the trial and quoted from others, including a comment after the firebombing when Troyer said Savage had learned that Coleman, who was in federal custody, was going to be escorted by federal marshals to the funerals of those who had been killed.

"When they take him to the funeral they should stop off and get some barbecue sauce and pour it on them burned bitches," Savage allegedly said.

Two of Savage's co-defendants, his sister Kidada, and Robert Merritt, have also been charged in the firebombing. A fourth co-defendant, Steven Northington is accused of carrying out other murders on Savage's orders.

Eugene Coleman is expected to be one of several former drug associates to take the stand during the trial which is scheduled to last about three months. Lamont Lewis, another associate who has admitted to taking part in the firebombing, is also cooperating.

Lewis has said that he and Merritt threw two cans of gasoline into the rowhome and fired shots into the house to insure that no one would attempt to flee.

"In seconds the house was a blazing inferno," Troyer told the jury. He said as Lewis and Merritt walked away, "they heard a woman scream."

But in his opening arguments, Christian Hoey, Savage's court-appointed lawyer, urged the jury not to rush to judgment based on emotion. Hoey called the firebombing deaths "a tragedy of epic proportions."

He said there was no dispute about what happened. But he cautioned the jury not to accept Lamont Lewis's version of why it happened.

Lewis, he said, has admitted to 11 murders. He called him "an assassin," "a stone-cold killer" and "an iceman." And he contended that Lewis implicated Savage in the firebombing because he knew that's what investigators wanted to hear.

Hoey's account placed Savage as a player, but hardly a kingpin, in a Philadelphia drug underworld populated by treacherous drug dealers with links to govenment, politics and even City Hall. Hoey acknowledged that his client had said many things on tape that were "vulgar" and "outrageous" but he contended that much of it was said out of frustration and anger and was never acted on.

Savage's own words, picked up from phone tapes, prison recordings and a electronic listening device placed in his cell in the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia are expected to be a big part of the evidence introduced during the case.

Troyer made repeated references to Savage's own words in his opening, sprinkling his two-hour narrative with comments that underscored what he said was Savage's vindictive and violent nature.

Less than a month after the fireboming, Savage continued to rail against cooperators, telling an associate, "I'm just getting started ... The night is still young."

"I'm going to kill everything you love," he allegedly said to another person he thought might be cooperating. And later threatened to kill the cooperator's daughter, boasting, "I gonna blow her little head off. She about five."

"I dream about killing these kids, cutting these kids heads off," Savage said on another tape while ranting about the families of former associates who had turned on him.

Troyer said Savage also threatened federal authorities, including FBI Agent Kevin Lewis, who spearheaded the investigation against him, and an unidentified captain in the detention center where Savage was being held.

Of the captain, Savage was picked up on tape saying, "He gonna die a miserable death ... I'm gonna set him on fire alive and watch him jump around like James Fuckin' Brown ... Douse him with gasoline and set his ass on fire ... That fire's a motherfucker."

Hoey tried to counter in his opening statement by quoting Lamont Lewis who, he said, admitted in one phone conversation before he started cooperating that the feds wanted him to "lie on somebody" in order to get out from under the charges he was facing.

That somebody, Hoey said, was Kaboni Savage.

He also said that Lamont Lewis' claim that he did not know there were children in the house before he firebombed it and that he confronted Kidada Savage over that issue didn't ring true.

Hoey said there were two different witnesses who put the lie to that claim.

A woman, Hoey said, saw Lewis walking away from the porch after setting the house on fire. The woman, Hoey said, said Lewis was alone. Hoey said the woman confronted Lewis, asking him, "Are you crazy? There are kids in that house."

"I don't give a fuck," Hoey said Lamont Lewis replied.

In another conversation, he said, Lamont Lewis told a friend, "People in the house were frying like chickens. I didn't give a fuck."

Hoey also claimed that Lewis walked a few blocks to a friends house after the firebombing and sat on a porch "smoking marijuana and listening to the fire truck sirens." Hoey also said Lewis asked about collecting a $100,000 reward that had been offered in the firebombing case after he decided to cooperate.

"That's like killing your mother and father and then asking the judge for mercy because you're an orphan," Hoey said. 

The descriptions of Savage, Lamont Lewis and of six other murders that were also part of the case, took up most of the opening statements today. Lawyers for Kidada Savage, Merritt and Northington will make their openings when the trial resumes tomorrow.

On the 15th floor, meanwhile, the jury in the Ligambi case deliberated for seven more hours without reachng a verdict. The 20 days of deliberations come after a 10-week trial that included testimony and secretly recorded conversations about sports betting, video poker machines and loansharking.

Gangsters and gangstas.

George Anastasia can be contacted at

1 comment

  1. It looks like the Court has decided that, to turn a baseball phrase, the tie goes to the pitcher. The default presumption is now that a suspect has this site not invoked his right to remain silent if he decides to do just that. Instead, he must actually say something and clearly invoke the right.


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