A hearing on whether four men accused in the death of Philadelphia Police Sgt. James O’Connor IV should stand trial for murder and related charges was cut short Wednesday when one of the defense lawyers went into labor.
Marni Jo Snyder, who represents defendant Khalif Sears, went into labor about 10:30 a.m. inside the courtroom of Municipal Court Judge James M. DeLeon.
And in moments, a court session that had been devoted to the grim details of a shooting death shifted its focus to the prospect of new life.
“It’s strange that in a courtroom with such sadness, there’s life,” DeLeon said in addressing O’Connor’s family and colleagues, along with relatives of the accused.
Hassan Elliot, 22, is charged in the fatal shooting of O’Connor, as well as the attempted murder of seven other police officers he is accused of firing at. Sears, 19, is charged with murder through the conspiracy act, as is Bilal Mitchell, 20, who was also present during the shooting. A fourth man, Sherman Easterling, 25, faces gun charges.
O’Connor and other officers were serving arrest warrants for Sears and Elliot on March 13 when police say Elliot opened fire on them. O’Connor, 46, a 23-year veteran of the department, was hit twice and later died from his injuries.
Elliot and Sears were wanted in connection with the murder of Tyrone Tyree Jr., which took place not far from the site of O’Connor’s shooting.
During a hearing Tuesday, Assistant District Attorneys Anthony Voci and Joanne Pescatore produced evidence that Elliot, Sears, and two other men — Mitchell and Easterling — had been holed up inside a second-floor apartment on the day of O’Connor’s death. Officers said gunfire came from behind a bedroom door almost immediately after they announced their presence in the home and began to climb the stairs.
The group, prosecutors say, is part of a violent street gang in the neighborhood that has taken responsibility for several shootings and murders.
In court Wednesday Homicide Detective Thorsten Lucke
said photos taken from Elliot’s iCloud account show both men posing with guns, including a rifle that resembles the .22-caliber Mossburg that was used to kill O’Connor. Another photo found on Elliot’s Instagram taken the week of O’Connor’s death shows that rifle, as well as a collection of handguns, displayed in a room that resembles the apartment where the officer was shot.
Elliot’s attorney, Walter C. Chisholm, said Wednesday that there was no confirmation that the gun seen in the photos was the same one used to kill O’Connor, and contended that the photo should be excluded from evidence in the case.