Opening statements are scheduled Monday in the murder trial of five men accused of opening fire in a brawl at a Philadelphia row house in September 2016, killing two and wounding three more, but the panel of seven women and five men won’t hear about the victims, not even in pretrial hearings or during testimony from the other side.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Emil Giordano ruled Friday that four victims killed in the bloody fight in a north Philadelphia block – Antwon Rose, 20, and Jacob Whitson, 18, both of Buffalo, New York, and Jevontae Jones, 23, of Philadelphia – aren’t “victims,” despite their families’ pleas for him to allow testimony in the case.
The city’s Deputy Attorney General Justin McKenzie argued the “victims” provisions of Pennsylvania’s Stand Your Ground law prevents the prosecution from bringing forward testimony on behalf of the four men.
“A case where the world stands up and cries out ‘we want to hear from the victim, we want to hear from the victim’ – that request was denied,” McKenzie said.
Giordano denied the “victim” request, although he did allow testimony from defendant Jabari Blake, 21, on behalf of his friend Rashad Woodard, 25, in a case where members of the neighborhood gang The Ramsey Boys opened fire on Rittenhouse Circle on Sept. 8, 2016.
Four other defendants — Darrius Holmes, 21, who previously pled guilty to murder, Jamale Holley, 21, accused of hitting one of the three surviving victims with a rock during the melee, and Brinson Lampley, 20, and Stewart Perry, 19, also linked to shootings during the same crime spree — were indicted in February 2017 and are facing charges of felony murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, aggravated assault, and other offenses.
“I am literally shocked at the judge’s ruling,” Robert Edwards, attorney for Blake, said. “I think what is pretty obvious in this case is that the two most important characters in this incident are Tynesha and the Ramsey Boys. The other four guys took the law into their own hands and then proceeded to take the law into their own hands when the police got there.”
Court records indicate Blake was shot by a police officer early in the incident but was hit in the leg when Blake refused to follow orders to lie on the ground.
Giordano ruled the family of the three injured men can’t be called “victims,” but neither can several of the nine defendants who were arrested.
“The manner in which the victim is perceived and the need to provide this type of testimony and evidence is not comparable to an agent of the state forced to testify about the loss of property or property damage,” Giordano said.
“This certainly was not an argument that the questions asked by the defendants should be used in court to this specific question that’s raised, which is, ‘were these the victims?'” Giordano said.
“The way that they have chosen to frame the questions, the way that they have framed the answers that they used against the victims themselves, is a form of blaming the victim,” Giordano said.
“I think Mr. Blake and the other defendants are quick to point out the ‘shoot out’ was planned and engineered and instigated by members of The Ramsey Boys, but they are quick to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions.”
Jurors begin hearing testimony Monday in the courtroom of District Judge Michelle Handel, who was nominated by President Donald Trump in March. Handel will hear the trial with a jury.
Giordano rejected an effort by defense attorneys to delay jury selection until Blake’s scheduled trial on June 11 because Blake has been ruled incompetent to stand trial.
“The defendant has indicated that his medical condition may be permanent,” Giordano said, referring to persistent apnea and infections and anemia.
“He appears at times to not hear correctly, he appears at times to lose the ability to speak and/or to understand properly, and at times he appears to be faking his condition.”
“This is an unfortunate but not insurmountable situation that we are presented with.”
Giordano said Blake should be taken before a judge in Erie County to be evaluated by doctors and a psychologist.
Lauren McGaughy is a south Florida based writer, activist and conservative activist. You can also follow her on Twitter.