Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Family Photos Show Firebomb Victims

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

The family photos brought tears to the eyes of government witness Eugene Coleman.

His mother, Marcella, 54, smiling in her living room. His sister, Tameka Nash, 34, hugging her 10-year-old daughter, Khadjah. Another photo of Khadjah smiling impishly. A nephew.
Tahj Porchea, 12, standing tall and proud. And Coleman's infant son, Damir Jenkins, 15-months, laughing in his father's arms.

Each color photo was flashed on large television screens in the eighth floor courtroom where Coleman was testifying in the racketeering-murder trial of drug kingpin Kaboni Savage.

Family members in happier times.

Family members killed when their North Sixth Street rowhouse was firebombed in the early morning hours of Oct. 9, 2004, on the orders, authorities allege, of Savage.

Six people, including another Coleman nephew, Sean Rodriguez, 15, died in that blaze, victims the government contends of the violent, take-no-prisoners, kill-all-the-rats reign of terror that Savage unleashed in the Philadelphia underworld ten years ago.

Coleman, 43, had been cooperating with authorities for about a year when his family was targeted. He had been threatened and warned repeatedly after Savage and members of his organization suspected Coleman had cut a deal with the government, the soft-spoken, admitted drug dealer said from the stand this morning.

In fact, he said, the day before the firebombing he had come face-to-face with Savage when both were in the federal courthouse for hearings. They and a dozen other members of the Savage organization had been jailed in 2003 on drug conspiracy charges.

Savage, Coleman said, went into a rant when he saw Coleman in an adjacent holding cell.

"Kill all the motherfucking rats," he said Savage told another inmate in a voice loud enough that he knew Coleman would hear. And their families as well, Savage continued, screaming, "They all should die ... Kill all the motherfuckers."

On their way back to the Federal Detention Center later that day, Coleman said, he again found himself in Savage's presence as they waited in line to be readmitted to the prison. Savage, he said, looked him in the eye, smiled and then ran his finger across his throat in a slashing motion.

Coleman said the motion confirmed what he already knew -- Savage had marked him for death.

"Within twenty-four hours of that incident," Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer asked Coleman, "were six members of your family dead?"

"Yes," Coleman replied quietly.

The firebombing murders are six of the 12 homicides listed in the case against Savage, 38, and three co-defendants. Savage's sister, Kidada, 30, is charged with relaying orders and setting the firebombing in motion. Co-defendant Robert Merritt, 31, is charged with taking part in the firebombing. Co-defendant Steven Northington, 40, is not charged with the arson, but is linked to several other murders.

Savage showed little emotion during Coleman's testimony, conferring occasionally with his two defense attorneys and writing, as he has each day during the seven-week old trial, on a yellow legal pad at the defense table.

He, Merritt and Northington face potential death sentences if convicted of the murder charges. Kidada could be sentenced to life.

Coleman is expected back on the stand this morning. He spent most of today's afternoon session in a verbal sparring match with Christian Hoey, one of Savage's two court-appointed lawyers. Hoey continually challenged statements Coleman made to authorities, pointing to potential conflicts and inconsistencies in what he has said at debriefing sessions and from the witness stand when he testified against Savage in a drug conspiracy trial in 2005.

Savage was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison in that case.

Coleman broke down in tears and struggled with his words as he was shown the pictures of his family members, but before and after that part of his testimony, he was focused and direct.

He told the jury he was a close associate of Savage's from the mid 1990s until they were arrested in 2003.

"We were like brothers," he said.

But he said he began to question his own loyalty to the volatile drug kingpin along the way.

In 1999, he said, he was upset with Savage after they had been apprehended in an apartment in Maple Shade, N.J. Savage was "on the run" at the time from a murder charge in Philadelphia. Authorities found about two ounces of cocaine in the apartment at the time of the arrest, Coleman said.

Two days earlier, he testified, he and Savage had processed a shipment of 21 kilograms at the apartment but by the time authorities arrived, the drugs had been distributed. Nevertheless, Coleman said, Savage wanted his then pregnant girlfriend, who was also in the apartment, to take the fall for the two ounces of cocaine.

"I told him it was his responsibility," Coleman said. "I told him he was the boss and he should not let his baby momma take the case."

Four years later, in March 2003, Coleman said he was shocked when another Savage associate shot and killed Tyrone Toliver in an apartment in the 3500 block of Palmetto Street where Coleman was living. The murder was ordered by Savage, he said.

Coleman admitted that he helped dispose of the body and clean up the apartment -- cutting out a section of rug that had been stained with Toliver's blood -- but he said the shooting preyed on him.

"He was my friend," Coleman said while admitting that he lied to Toliver's family, claiming he had not idea what he happened, even as he attended Toliver's funeral.

The murder was something that continued to bother him and ultimately was one of the reasons he  agreed to cooperate, even though he knew he was putting himself and his family at risk. Savage, he said, had a history of threatening those who turned on him.

"He hated snitches and rats," Coleman said. "Hated them and hated their mothers...He said whoever had birthed them" should be killed.

Coleman also testified about a letter he had received in prison from Kidada Savage in 2003 at a time when the Savage organization suspected, but had not yet confirmed,  that he was cooperating. The letter, introduced as evidence and read to the jury, was both a plea and a warning.

"Yo, man...I thought we were family....What the fuck is going on?" the letter read in part. "We're all in this thing together...You're disappointing a lot of people."

Kidada Savage then urged Coleman not to tell authorities anything and to let her and other members of the organization know what, if anything, he had already told federal agents.

"Fuck them," she wrote. "Feed them niggers dog shit."

She then wrote about better times when Coleman, who was like a brother, took her to Wildwood, Great Adventure and other amusement parks and attended her graduation.

"Nigger, I'm still your little fuckin' sister," the letter continued. "... Where's the love? Don't say shit to them. They're going to divide and conquer."

The letter, dated Sept. 9, 2003, closed with the lines, "Death before Dishonor (to your family.)"

Coleman said the words in parenthesis were a clear message to him that his family was at risk.

A little more than a year later, his mother, his infant son and four other members of his family were dead.

Contact George Anastasia at George@bigtrial.net.


  1. I hope you are going to write a book about this trial after it's over. I had been waiting for a new post for about two weeks, I was having withdrawal pains. It appears yours is the only blog covering the trial. Keep the news coming!

    1. Thank you. Not doing daily coverage, but trying to stay on top of important developments.

  2. I've been waiting for an update, too. This trial will make a good book.

  3. any updates as of 3/26/13??

  4. Whats new with the Kaboni trial? We need an update asap. Please. And thank you.

  5. Thank you for covering this trial. I was in the jury pool for this but was not chosen so I'm interested to see what happens.


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