A Philadelphia judge decided Friday not to remove a defense attorney in a murder case, as sought by the District Attorney’s Office, instead scheduling a Jan. 18 hearing to listen to testimony from that lawyer and the chief of the district attorney’s homicide unit.
At issue are conversations between the two attorneys about possible plea negotiations for the defendant and video evidence that allegedly showed misconduct by two homicide detectives after the fatal February shooting. Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara A. McDermott said she wanted to hear what each attorney had said during those conversations.
A motion filed Thursday by District Attorney Larry Krasner and Patricia Cummings, head of the office’s Conviction Integrity Unit, had sought to disqualify defense attorney Bill Davis from representing the defendant because Davis' firm, McMonagle, Perri, McHugh, Mischak & Davis, has a contract with the local Fraternal Order of Police to represent officers accused of misconduct.
The motion referenced a Wednesday afternoon phone conversation between Davis and Anthony Voci, chief of the DA’s homicide unit, in which Davis said he had obtained video evidence from Penn Presbyterian Medical Center’s trauma bay that allegedly showed detectives Freddie Mole and Joseph Murray looking at the contents of a cell phone about 3:30 p.m. Feb. 11 before they had a search warrant to do so.
At that time, the defendant, Marquise Noel, 21, of Southwest Philadelphia, was in the hospital’s trauma bay, where a private vehicle had taken him for treatment of a gunshot wound in a leg. Meanwhile, the body of Tafari Lawrence, 23, of Upper Darby, who was fatally wounded shortly before 2 p.m. that day at 75th Street and Elmwood Avenue, was also in the trauma bay.
Prosecutors and police contend that the cell phone was obtained from a bag recovered in the hospital that had Noel’s clothing and that the phone was Noel’s. Davis says he has seen no evidence that it was Noel’s phone.
According to prosecutors, information discovered on the phone was key to linking Noel as a suspect in Lawrence’s shooting death. Noel, who has pleaded not guilty, faces a June trial on charges of murder and related offenses.
Prosecutors contend that Davis, while telling Voci on Wednesday of the video evidence of alleged police misconduct, also said he did not want the video to become public because “I don’t want to end anyone’s career." Prosecutors allege that Davis' behavior resulted from his firm’s representation of police officers.
Davis has said that he called Voci about the video evidence to try to gain a favorable plea deal for Noel, given that, to him, the only real evidence prosecutors had against his client was the cell phone contents and that that information, he contended, was illegally obtained.
He told the Inquirer and Daily News on Thursday night that he had “made the mistake during the conversation with the chief of homicide, Voci, of showing some humanity” toward the police detectives: "I did tell [Voci] on a personal note that I’ve known the assigned detectives, and I would love to avoid ending their careers and really hurting their families, if possible.“
But Davis also said he told Voci that he realized Voci might have to reveal the video evidence of alleged police misconduct to his supervisors.
Davis also said Thursday and in court Friday that his firm does not have a conflict of interest by having a contract with the FOP and in his representation of Noel because his firm would not represent Mole and Murray in any matter and has declined in the past to represent officers accused of perjury.
Assistant District Attorney Jason Grenell of the homicide unit asked the judge on Friday to postpone a defense motion to suppress the cell phone evidence and to give prosecutors more time to investigate the case. The judge agreed to both matters and did not yet schedule a new hearing date for the motion to suppress, originally scheduled for Friday.
Assistant District Attorney Sarah Boyette of the Conviction Integrity Unit told the judge that although Davis “has zealously advocated for his client,” her office’s position was that because of the concerns raised by Davis in his Wednesday phone conversation with Voci about the police detectives' careers, there could be a conflict of interest in Davis' continued representation of Noel because police and defendants have adverse interests.
Voci was in the courtroom Friday. At one point, when Davis told the judge that the District Attorney’s Office believes the detectives committed perjury, Voci nodded in apparent agreement.
The judge on Friday also appointed a lawyer not involved in the proceedings for the defendant, so that he would have a separate, neutral attorney to discuss any potential conflict-of-interest concerns.