Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Krasner's Head Of Homicide Has A History Of Courtroom Blunders

By Ralph Cipriano

If you're looking for a good measure of how far the District Attorney's Office has fallen under Larry Krasner, look no further than the homicide unit.

On Nov. 17, District Attorney Larry Krasner appointed Assistant District Attorney Chesley Lightsey as interim supervisor of the D.A.'s Homicide and Non-Fatal Shooting Unit, replacing Assistant District Attorney Anthony Voci. As Lightsey's top assistant, Krasner appointed Assistant District Attorney Sherrell Dandy. 

Once, the homicide unit was the province of legendary prosecutors such as Charles "Joey" Grant, who tried and won hundreds of cases, many of them at high profile murder trials against defendants that included mob boss Nicky Scarfo. 

Carlos Vega, who's running against Krasner in the May 18th primary for the Democratic nomination for D.A., prosecuted more than 450 murder cases during a 30 year career in the D.A.'s homicide unit. Vega recalled that before he got promoted to homicide, he prosecuted 40 jury trials over a five-year apprenticeship before his bosses would trust him to try a murder case.  

But under Krasner, the homicide unit is now led by Lightsey and Dandy, a couple of lightweights who, according to knowledgeable sources, have tried a total of approximately 18 homicide jury trials between them. 

In addition, the two ADAs who head the homicide unit have an embarrassing history of courtroom blunders behind them that are well-known in Philadelphia's tight-knit legal community. Blunders that include mixing up key evidence like the murder weapon at trial, calling the wrong witnesses, and misidentifying robbery and kidnapping suspects. Those gaffes resulted in dangerous defendants walking, defendants who subsequently went on to commit more crimes. 

As far as the current homicide unit in the D.A.'s office under Larry Krasner, it's strictly amateur hour. But because Krasner's a cop-hating, prosecutor-hating former criminal defense lawyer, the demise of the homicide unit under Krasner may be happening by design. Like the coach of a tanking sports team, you have to wonder if Krasner wants to deliberately lose every game.

The rise of Lightsey to interim head of homicide coincides with the demotion of Voci. He's an experienced prosecutor who served a total of 10 years in the D.A.'s office in the 1990s under former D.A.s Ron Castille and Lynne Abraham, including a three-year stint in the homicide unit.

In 2018, after Krasner got elected, Voci returned to the D.A.'s office. For three years, at one press conference after another, it was Voci and Krasner side-by-side before the TV cameras talking about high-profile cases. During those press conferences, Krasner routinely referred to Voci as his head of homicide, rather than as an interim supervisor.

When Michael White went on trial for stabbing Sean Schellenger to death in Rittenhouse Square, Voci was the lead prosecutor, with rookie homicide prosecutor Dandy by his side.

It was the highest profile case to date during Krasner's tenure as D.A., a slam-dunk murder case caught on a cell-phone video. But Krasner sabotaged the prosecution by twice reducing the criminal charges against White, and the defendant walked. 

Voci's demotion stems from an Sept. 16th incident when he was riding his Harley back from a crime scene and he got involved in an altercation on Kelly Drive with a young black female motorist, an altercation that The Philadelphia Inquirer promptly turned into a racial controversy. 

A month after Voci made headlines in the Inquirer, Krasner, in an email to all personnel in the D.A.'s office, announced that Voci had been transferred to the Insurance Fraud Unit. 

In researching this story, I reached out as I typically do to District Attorney Krasner, and Jane Roh, Krasner's official spokesperson, for comment. And, as they have done for the past 19 months, neither Krasner nor Roh responded.

But for the first time in 19 months, I did get a response from somebody in the D.A.'s office. Actually, two somebodies. Assistant District Attorneys Lightsey and Dandy both offered what appeared to be a coordinated defense.

In separate emails, both Lightsey and Dandy stated that the details of the courtroom gaffes that I describe below were "incorrect" as were the figures concerning their relative "inexperience" as homicide prosecutors.

Lightsey suggested that I order the notes of testimony for the cases that I reference in this story, "so you can understand the nuance of testimony that undoubtedly is considered in any jury verdict."

"Out of respect for the victims and their families, who continue to suffer, I will not comment publicly on  individual cases," she said.

When I asked if she could supply those transcripts, along with notes on all those legal "nuances" that might have gone over the head of a non-lawyer like myself, Lightsey didn't respond.

I pressed Lightsey specifically on her inexperience as a homicide prosecutor. According to knowledgeable sources, she has tried approximately 15 murder cases.

In a second email, Lightsey responded, "It is not accurate that I have only prosecuted 15 or fewer homicide jury trials." But she declined to state a specific number of murder cases that she did try.

"I will not be commenting further," she wrote, ending the discussion.

When she was elevated to head of homicide, Lightsey had 12 years of experience as a prosecutor in the D.A.'s office.

In a press release, Krasner explained that he appoints all D.A. unit supervisors "on an interim basis to provide greater flexibility in the training of newer prosecutors and staff and to ensure senior prosecutors remain close to the work and lives of the attorneys they supervise." 

He also stated that he plans to "cycle highly capable and experienced attorneys in and out of supervisory positions."

“Assistant District Attorney Chesley Lightsey is not only an excellent and capable trial prosecutor, she comes to this job with thoughtful compassion for the communities we serve,” District Attorney Krasner said. 

“She and this office are after individual justice in each case, which benefits all of society," Krasner expounded. "Doing individual justice in each case requires a lot of work and experience, a moral compass, breadth of vision, and sound judgement. ADA Lightsey will do a great job as the Interim Supervisor of the Homicide and Non-Fatal Shooting Unit.”

But contrary to Krasner's lofty, overblown rhetoric, two lawyers familiar with Lightsey's work habits as a prosecutor said she wasn't exactly known for being a hardworking, well-prepared superstar in the courtroom.

One of those lawyers used a sports analogy, comparing Lightsey to Eagles back-up quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who took over the huddle only when the team decided to tank the last game of the season.

"She's good enough to be on the roster, but has no business being on the field," the lawyer said.

Vega, a former homicide prosecutor himself, said that when it comes to trying a murder case, courtroom experience is invaluable.

"Homicide victims and their families deserve the most experienced and capable lawyers," Vega said.

And because Krasner's homicide unit is led by a couple of relatively inexperienced homicide prosecutors, Vega said, you have to question the D.A.'s "actual commitment to prosecuting violent crime." 

And you also have to question, Vega said, whether "capable prosecutors want to work" in Larry Krasner's District Attorney's office.


Victor Scott was a juvenile lifer. In 1983, at age 18, he was arrested and charged with the first-degree murder of Michael Rhoads, 29, a casualty in a West Philly gang war. Three years later, Scott was found guilty and sentenced to 33 years to life.

In 2018, after serving 35 years in prison, Scott was paroled, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that banned life without parole sentences for juveniles.

Out of the first 111 juvenile lifers who were paroled in Pennsylvania, only one was arrested and charged with a new crime. On April 6, 2018, Victor Scott, at age 53, was charged with possession of a gun.

The morning of Scott's arrest, a group of parole agents arrived at Scott's house and called him on the phone. It took at least five minutes for Scott to answer the door. Prosecutors charged that Scott was busy inside stashing a .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol behind paint cans and a toolbox, in a hidden spot on a staircase.

Scott claimed he had not been aware that the gun was in the house. But as reported by Samantha Melamed of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Judge Marissa Brumbach said, "I've heard no testimony that the house was cleared" by parole agents and free of weapons before Scott arrived.

The judge then dismissed the case for lack of evidence.

In court, Lightsey had called as a witness the detective who found the gun inside Scott's house. But Lightsey did not call as a witness the parole agent who had searched the house previously, and found no gun.

After the judge dismissed the case, the parole agent was overheard screaming at Lightsey in the hallway outside the courtroom, for not calling him as a witness. And she was overheard apologizing, and saying, "I'm sorry."

As reported by Melamed, unnamed "prosecutors" told the Inquirer that they intended to immediately refile the charges against Scott. If convicted, Scott would have returned to jail for the rest of his life. But the D.A.'s office never got around to refiling the charges, and Scott went free.

In a subsequent interview with Melamed, Scott contended that he had not been aware that the gun was stashed in the Southwest Philly home, a family property where he was renting a room. Scott claimed that other family members had access to the house, and that before he moved in, it was a hangout for his nephew and the nephew's friends.

"Everything was perfect," Scott told Melamed, the newspaper's official social justice reporter who never met a criminal she didn't find to be sympathetic. "Why would I have a gun? That'd be like throwing rocks at the penitentiary," Malamed quoted Scott as saying.

But Scott subsequently acquired another gun. According to an affidavit of probable cause, on July 27, 2020, Scott allegedly attacked an Inquirer truck driver armed with a baseball bat and a handgun, an incident captured on surveillance video. According to the affidavit, Scott repeatedly pointed the gun at the victim, and repeatedly struck him with the baseball bat.

Scott was arrested and charged with three violations of the Uniform Firearms Act, for being a former convict possessing an unlicensed gun in Philadelphia. He was also charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, terroristic threats, reckless endangerment, and possession of an instrument of crime for attacking the Inquirer driver, a crime that went unreported in the Inquirer.

On Oct. 2, 2020, Scott's bail was set at $300,000. His next three court appearances, in October, November and December, were continued because the courthouse was closed during the pandemic. 


On June 9, 2017, Aka Jones was on trial charged with two counts of murder, two counts of conspiracy, and two gun charges. Lightsey was the prosecutor. The charges stemmed from a 2012 murder when two masked gunmen shot and killed 23-year-old Nafis Armstead and wounded another man in East Mount Airy.

Jones was charged after prosecutors told a judge that Jones's DNA had been found on a .357 revolver recovered near a minivan used by the masked robbers. Prosecutors contended that a shot fired from that gun struck Armstead in the head. Police also found a second gun at the crime scene, a .40 caliber semiautomatic pistol stuck between the front seats of the minivan.

In her closing statement, however, according to knowledgeable sources, prosecutor Lightsey mixed up the two guns. She made the mistake of identifying as the murder weapon the gun that didn't have the defendant's DNA on it, rather than the gun that did have the defendant's DNA on it.

As a result, the jury was confused and Jones beat the rap. The jury acquitted Jones on the two counts of murder, two counts of conspiracy, as well as the two gun charges.

What did Jones do with his newfound freedom? He committed more crimes.

On April 7, 2019, Jones was arrested again and charged with manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver, possession of a controlled substance, and possession of marijuana.

On July 24, 2019, Jones was arrested and charged with manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver, possession of marijuana, and corruption of minors. According to his rap sheet, it was his 18th arrest.

There's one more oddity about the Aka Jones case. Krasner on the campaign trail had criticized the use of civil asset forfeiture actions aimed at accused criminals who hadn't had their day in court yet. 

“I think we should not be in the business of taking cash off poor people unless there’s absolute proof and guilt and a conviction,” Krasner said in 2017.

But that's just what happened twice to accused drug dealer Aka Jones, who to date has not been convicted in either drug case.

On Sept. 26, 2019, Judge Benjamin Lerner granted a motion of for order of forfeiture by default for the amount of $542.

On Nov. 19, 2019, Judge Crystal Bryant-Powell granted a motion of forefieture by default  in the amount of $1,375.


On June 12, 2019 in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, Assistant District Attorney Lightsey was explaining the murder of 2 1/2-month-old Orion Tyreek Lemon to Judge Lilian Harris Ransom.

But while Lightsey was helping a baby killer get a sweetheart plea bargain, she didn't get the charges right, so in court, she had to be corrected on the law by a clerk, according to a transcript of the hearing.

"Your Honor, we are here today because on June 26th of 2016, 12th District police officers" responding to a call found an "unresponsive" infant," Lightsey told the judge.

"The child was taken to the Children's Hospital at Philadelphia and pronounced dead at 9:10 a.m.," the prosecutor said. "Your Honor, in this case the death was originally classified as SIDS," or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

But police subsequently reopened an investigation into the infant's death because they had received new information.

"On Sept. 20, 2018, police learned from the two minor daughters of this defendant, Tyreek Lemon, that this defendant would always get mad when the baby would cry," the prosecutor told the judge.

"The daughters described how the defendant would shove the baby's head into the mattress and cover it with blankets and pillows to make the child stop crying," Lightsey told the judge. "When the child would be uncovered, he would be sweating and gasping for air."

When police interviewed Kingia Phillips -- Orion's mother, and Tyreek Lemon's fiancé -- "police learned that on the night Orion Lemon was killed, the baby was crying in his parents' bed," the prosecutor told the judge.

"Kingia Phillips covered the baby with a winter coat," the prosecutor said. "The defendant put a pillow over the baby. Kingia Phillips then fell asleep. When Ms. Phillips awoke, Orion was unresponsive and police were called."

During the court proceedings, when Lightsey was reading the charges in the plea bargain to the judge, she made the mistake of saying that the charge of involuntary manslaughter was a second-degree felony. 

According to a court transcript, it was left to the court clerk to correct Krasner's assistant district attorney on the law.

"Your Honor, I'm sorry to interrupt," Lightsey told the judge, but "as always Cathy [the clerk] is right,"  Lightsey said. "This is a felony of the third degree, as it was charged on the bill. Thank you for pointing that out."

Lemon, a former Democratic committeman in the 60th Ward, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, endangering the welfare of a child, and possession of an instrument of crime. His sweetheart deal with the D.A.'s office included house arrest after he pleaded guilty, so he could continue to go to church and hunt for a job.

Regarding a prison sentence, Lemon was looking at 20 to 40 years in jail. But thanks to the generous plea bargain arranged by the D.A.'s office, with Lighstey prosecuting the case, Lemon received a sentence of only three and a half to seven years in prison for murdering his newborn son.


On Oct. 10, 1994, four gang members who got into a shoot-out killed Petra Yamira Vargas, who was only 15 years old.

The murder victim's sister, Krystal Vargas, was a witness in the case. Two of the four killers were arrested and convicted and given life sentences in a trial prosecuted by former Assistant District Attorney Carlos Vega.

In 2019, a couple of detectives knocked on the door of Krystal Vargas and her family. The detectives were carrying a letter from the district attorney's office. The letter informed Vargas that one of the men who killed her sister was being granted a release from prison by D.A. Larry Krasner because he was a juvenile lifer.

Vargas, who said her family was traumatized all over again by the news, turned to Vega for help. Vega, who by then had left the D.A.'s office, advised Vargas to argue that as a stipulation for release, the D.A. should require the former juvenile lifer getting out of jail to give up the names of the other two gang members involved in the killing of Vargas's sister. 

The D.A.'s office got those two names, Vargas said, but then did nothing. A distraught Vargas contacted Assistant District Attorney Chesley Lightsey.

"Chesley did confirm that both men were still alive and both had criminal records so they were able to locate them," Vargas said about the other two suspects in her sister's murder.

But when Vargas asked Lighstey why the D.A.'s office wasn't doing anything to prosecute the other two murder suspects, Vargas said Lightsey told her, "Oh the case is complicated," and that there was "a lot of digging to do."


According to Vargas, Lightsey also told her that if Carlos Vega was still in the D.A.'s office he would have done the necessary research, but it's "so complicated," Vargas said she was told again.

"She didn’t do her job," Vargas said about Lightsey. "Our case was like a number to her. I never felt empathy from her . . .  We just 100 percent knew that she just didn’t fight for our family."

I emailed Vargas's comments to Lightsey, but she said she was declining to discuss specific cases "out of respect for the victims and their families, who continue to suffer."


During a second visit to the D.A.'s office, Vargas demanded to meet with D.A. Larry Krasner. 

"He was not familiar with my sister case and had to scramble through paperwork in front of him," Vargas said.  

Vargas said she and her family argued that "my sister deserved justice," but "Krasner had zero and I mean zero empathy . . . He was like a robot sitting there."

Krasner also spoke to the Vargas family in Spanish, which they thought was condescending, so they asked the D.A to please use English.

"It's 100% clear that he is biased for these criminals," Vargas said about Krasner. "There is no sympathy" for victims. We were standing on opposite sides. We're on opposite teams."

I emailed Vargas's comments to Krasner and Roh, and both declined to respond.



After an earlier stint in the D.A.'s office, Sherrell Dandy returned to the office in 2018, when Krasner was elected. According to knowledgable sources, in one of her old cases during her previous tenure in the D.A,'s office, Dandy made a big mistake.

On March 26, 2013, while giving her closing argument in a case involving two men accused of robbery and kidnapping, Assistant District Attorney Dandy mixed up defendants Malik Watson and Raheem Turner. She pointed at Watson and called him Turner. And she pointed at Turner and called him Watson.

The jury was understandably confused about the facts of the case. As a result, Watson and Turner were subsequently found not guilty of aggravated assault, robbery, conspiracy, robbery of a motor vehicle, kidnapping for ransom, carrying unlicensed firearms, possession of an instrument of crime, and simple assault. 

After they were released, both Watson and Turner were arrested and charged with committing more crimes.

Watson, 27, was arrested in Aug. 16, 2016 for a savage murder and arson attack on a family in Las Vegas. According to the Las Vegas Sun, on Nov. 16, 2015, a dispute over a shipment of illegal drugs led to Watson and other assailants assaulting  four members of a Las Vegas family. According to the newspaper, the four family members were bound, stabbed and beaten by assailants, who doused them with gasoline and set fire to their house.

Mario Jimenez, 45, died the day of the fire. His daughter, Angelica Jimenez, 27, who was critically burned, subsequently died from her injuries. In addition, a 71-year old man survived with serious stab wounds and burns. Another woman was treated for severe burns. 

During the fire, a neighbor rescued a 10-month old girl who police said was placed outside by the assailants, with the family dogs, before they set the house on fire. 

On Aug. 14, 2019, a SWAT team in Virginia arrested Turner, 31, for a shooting that occurred in Philadelphia. He was hit with seven charges that included attempted murder, aggravated assault, conspiracy, carrying unlicensed firearms, and reckless endangerment.

In an email, Dandy said the "statements about my experience and the number of homicide cases I tried is inaccurate." 

According to knowledgable sources, the approximate number of homicide cases tried by Dandy is three. But when she was asked to supply an accurate number, Dandy didn't respond.

In her email, Dandy also stated that the details of her courtroom gaffe were inaccurate.

"I encourage you to review the trial transcript to get a more accurate idea of the factual complexities that existed when that case was tried eight years ago," she wrote.

But when asked if she could supply the trial transcript, Dandy did not respond.

As a homicide prosecutor, Dandy lost the Michael White case, although her boss had plenty to do with that defeat. But in a murder case that was as high profile as it gets, you have to wonder if that's the proper setting for a rookie homicide prosecutor to try and lose one of her first murder cases.

So it goes in the D.A.'s office, where most experienced prosecutors were either fired on Krasner's first day in office, or deserted the ship before Krasner got there. The old pros were replaced by 61 rookie prosecutors personally recruited straight out of law school by Krasner, 21 of whom promptly flunked the bar exam. 

And when those 21 rookie prosecutors took the bar exam again, seven of those assistant district attorneys flunked again.

As Krasner famously said when he fired 31 veteran prosecutors, "The coach gets to pick the team." 

Sadly, it looks like Coach Krasner picked a team full of losers.

It's not only the prosecutors in the homicide unit who are inexperienced and/or incompetent. According to one of the most prominent criminal defense lawyers in town, it's the entire team at the D.A.'s office under Krasner.

Veteran criminal defense lawyer Charles "Chuck" Peruto Jr. announced yesterday that he's seeking the May 18th Republican nomination for D.A.

In an interview, Peruto described Krasner as a "public defender disguised as a district attorney." And he said it's just too easy these days for an experienced lawyer like himself to beat Krasner's prosecutors.

"I haven't lost a jury trial since Larry Krasner took office," Peruto declared. He said he's tried a dozen cases since January 2018, when Krasner took office, including two murder trials, and he's won them all. 

"I've done this for 40 years and something's got to be done, this is a joke," Peruto said about the level of competence in Krasner's D.A.'s office.

"You don't even get the thrill of victory that you used to get if you win, because if you don't win, you stink," Peruto said. 

Peruto says his usual strategy with Krasner's prosecutors is to bump them off their game. He typically does that during his closing argument by listing five facts that the D.A. didn't discuss when they put on their case.

It's a diversionary tactic, Peruto admitted. The kind you can only pull on inexperienced lawyers.

"You take their eye off the ball," Peruto laughed.

In closing arguments, prosecutors are the last to speak to the jury. So during his jury trials against Krasner's prosecutors, Peruto said, he's watched with amusement as they subsequently wasted their closing arguments by chasing the red herrings that Peruto just dropped.

When the smartest thing they could do, Peruto admitted with a laugh, was to just ignore him.

So there you have it folks. The Eagles and the Sixers aren't the only teams in town known for tanking. 

At the D.A.'s office under Larry Krasner, his prosecutors, willingly or unwillingly, are tanking every day in court because most of them don't know what they're doing.

In sports, a team that tanks is typically rewarded with higher draft choices. But when the D.A.'s office tanks, everybody in town loses.

That's because every time an inexperienced and/or incompetent Krasner prosecutor blows a case, another armed and dangerous criminal gets out of jail. So he is free to rob, shoot and kill more victims.


  1. Thank you Sir, another fine job of reporting. God bless the poor people of Philadelphia.

  2. Great work Ralph. Any cop will tell you that goes to court the level of incompetence is scary. They have zero clue how to put on a case! Will take a long time to clean up this clown show.

  3. You're wrong about "everybody in town losing". The leftist megadonors living behind three layers of private security win big in these matters. They want anyone below them to be in perpetual fear of crime, and having a bunch of doofuses handle criminal matters ensures the criminals prosper.

    Of course, if any wrongdoer dares to try attack their power structure, its time to break out the machine guns and prison cells.


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