Philadelphia News & Search
A federal jury on Monday convicted five members of a violent home invasion crew who beat, kidnapped, and robbed their way across Philadelphia and the suburbs in a three-year crime spree as notable for its sophistication as for its brutality.
Dressed in suits with their hands cuffed below the defense table, Khalil Smith, 34; Mark Woods, 48; Terrance Munden, 48; Robert Hartley, 45; and Levern Jackson, 47, sat stone-faced as the jury foreman read out “guilty” again and again – once for each count of conspiracy, robbery, carjacking, and gun crimes of which they had been convicted.
But as soon as jurors were escorted from the room, the group wasted no time offering a reaction to the verdict.
“I’m going to bust you in your f— face, you white bitch,” Hartley called out to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeanine Linehan, one to two prosecutors who handled the case.
Her co-counsel, Salvatore Astolfi, immediately stood up and asked that the comment be added to the official court record.
U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg agreed, noting that one of the other defendants shouted while leaving the courtroom that he would see the judge within a year.
Woods and Smith, the alleged ringleaders of the group, left court mumbling curses under their breath about the “crooked government.”
Each man faces what could effectively be a life sentence at hearings likely to occur later this year.
“These were evil acts committed by evil individuals,” Astolfi said during his closing statement to the jury. “There’s no other explanation for what took place here: It’s pure evil.”
Monday’s verdict came after a 12-week trial in which dozens of witnesses and some of the group’s own members linked the men to 11 home invasions, kidnappings, and burglaries, targeting homes and businesses stretching from Whitpain Township in the north to Center City.
Smith and Woods were among the eight men prosecutors have linked to a brazen, broad-daylight failed robbery of a Center City jewelry store in July 2013.
Two of the men entered Platinum Jewelers on the 1100 block of Market Street posing as customers while four others, disguised as police, burst into the store wearing masks and brandishing guns. That robbery fell apart when an employee at the store triggered a silent alarm, forcing the men to flee.
But most of the group’s attacks, Astolfi said during his closing argument to the jury, demonstrated uncommon cunning and a disturbing penchant for cruelty.
The attackers tracked their targets – most of whom were drug dealers – on social media or with GPS trackers planted on their cars and continuously monitored police radio scanners with an app they downloaded onto their smartphones. They used wigs, makeup, and parts of police uniforms to disguise themselves.
Once inside, they terrorized their victims, waterboarding some, forcing others to strip naked, and threatening to rape others.
In April 2014, group members burst into the Southwest Philadelphia home of an immigrant family under the mistaken belief that the family was involved in narcotics trafficking. For more than an hour, they forced a man there to strip naked, poured boiling water on his testicles, and waterboarded him while threatening to sodomize his pregnant wife with a broomstick, all while the couple’s 4-year-old daughter looked on.
Through horrified sobs, the woman later recounted her ordeal from the witness stand, saying that once her husband finally convinced their attackers that they had the wrong house, the men warned them not to call police and then stole their car.
By 2013 the group’s methods had attracted the attention of agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, who during a two-year investigation amassed what prosecutors called an “obscene level of evidence” including text messages, cellphone tracking, hidden videos, cooperator testimony, and witness statements linking the men to their crimes.
The group’s luck ran out the next year. That April, the group hit the Overbrook home of a cocaine dealer, only to discover he was willing to hit back.
As members of the group burst into the man’s home demanding jewelry and drugs at gunpoint, the man wrested a gun away from one of his attackers and shot Smith, Munden, and a third member of the crew, Anthony McFarlane.
The others fled, but Philadelphia police later found McFarlane sprawled dead on the bedroom floor, his hand inches away from a diamond engagement ring he had stolen moments before.
More than 20 members of the crew were charged. The remaining defendants are expected to face trial later this year.
Philadelphia News & Search