A once-celebrated Philadelphia homicide detective was convicted Wednesday of using the power of his badge to exploit vulnerable witnesses and informants in murder cases — making promises or threats to entice the men to speak to him, then raping or sexually assaulting them in hotel rooms, his car, and even in an elevator at police headquarters.
During a two-week trial, three men accused Philip Nordo of abuse, saying he approached them seeking information in homicide cases and went on to force them into encounters that ranged from groping to unwanted sex.
Prosecutors called dozens of other witnesses to bolster their contention that Nordo, who investigated high-profile or complex cases during a decade on a special task force, used the prestige of his position to intimidate his targets to stay silent.
Nordo “tried to pull these men under the law while keeping himself above it,” Assistant District Attorney Brian Collins told jurors. “What they are telling you is the truth. ... Why would these three men make this up?”
Jurors deliberated for nearly two days before voting to convict Nordo, 56, on counts including rape, sexual assault, and official oppression. Prosecutors also said he illegally steered reward money toward one sexual target, and suggested he may have played a role in leaking the confidential statement of another.
District Attorney Larry Krasner, elected in 2017 on a pledge to hold police accountable for wrongdoing, said afterward that the case was an example of his office’s willingness to live up to that standard.
“We are going to hold people accountable, civilian or law enforcement, when they commit terrible crimes,” he said.
Nordo, whose bail was revoked while he awaits sentencing on Aug. 5, faces the prospect of years behind bars. He did not visibly react before being taken into custody by several sheriff’s deputies.
One of his attorneys, Michael van der Veen, said outside the courthouse that he and his colleagues “respect the jury but strongly disagree with their verdict.” He asked Common Pleas Court Judge Giovanni Campbell to have Nordo sent to an out-of-county jail due to safety concerns about being held in Philadelphia.
Nordo’s lawyers had sought to convince the panel of six men and six women that his accusers were not credible, highlighting inconsistencies between their testimony at trial and the earlier accounts they gave to a grand jury.
Richard J. Fuschino Jr. called one of the men an “actor” who shed “crocodile tears” during his testimony, and said another barely seemed to recognize Nordo as he provided an account that lacked some basic details.
Fuschino and van der Veen said Nordo was a dedicated detective who had been targeted by a flawed and biased investigation aimed at criminalizing the diligent work of a law enforcement officer who had received awards during his time on the force.
“This is about getting a result instead of getting justice,” Fuschino said.
Two jurors who spoke outside the courthouse said they disagreed.
Sean Hearn said he sought to keep an open mind and deliberate carefully. But he found all the witnesses credible, and said all available evidence appeared to support their accounts.
”It was just hearing the facts, hearing the testimony and kind of looking at the records — phone records, internet records, everything like that, payments,” he said. “We broke all that down, and it really shed light on the decision we were trying to come to.”
Another juror, who asked not to be identified to discuss the closed-door deliberations, said he also found the testimony of the victims “very compelling and believable,” and that he hoped that the men who had been victimized were able to receive counseling.
Speaking specifically about a victim who said Nordo forced him to have sex in a Center City hotel room, the juror said: “What happened to him I think is horrible. And it shouldn’t happen to anybody.”
Nordo’s downfall began in 2017, when he was benched as the Police Department investigated several allegations of misconduct, including an accusation that he’d improperly paid a key witness in a homicide case. At that point, Nordo had served in the Police Department for two decades, about half of those years in the Homicide Unit, where he had been regarded as a tireless investigator with a solid network of informants.
By the summer of that year, Nordo was fired for what police officials said was “knowingly and intentionally associating, fraternizing, or socializing” with people connected to criminal conduct.
And a year later, a Philadelphia judge tossed out a murder case he investigated over what she called Nordo’s “outrageous” behavior — including developing unusual relationships with key informants, interactions that were documented on recorded prison phone calls.
In February 2019, after a grand jury investigation, prosecutors charged Nordo with grooming and sexually assaulting witnesses during his time on the force — a set of accusations that stunned even seasoned police officials.
At trial over the past two weeks, three men said Nordo assaulted them after first seeking information about murder cases. They offered graphic details of the encounters, and two of them wept on the stand. (The Inquirer does not identify people who say they were sexually assaulted without their permission.)
One man said Nordo forced him to have sex in a Chinatown hotel room years after he provided information about the 2012 fatal shooting of off-duty Officer Moses Walker Jr. The man said Nordo continued to harass him after that case, often threatening him or his children, and prosecutors said Nordo improperly steered $20,000 in reward money his way.
Another man, a former prison guard, said Nordo tried to perform oral sex on him in a car, an encounter the man said “destroyed who I am as a person.”
And a third man, an informant of Nordo’s, said the detective tried to grope and kiss him in an elevator at the Roundhouse. Prosecutors later presented witnesses who suggested that Nordo could have had a role in leaking a confidential statement the man gave to police — an episode that forced the man to move out of Pennsylvania.
Prosecutors played several recorded phone calls between Nordo and inmates. They showed that Nordo repeatedly called men “freaks.” And retired Sgt. Richard Jones, the lead investigator from Internal Affairs, said Nordo promised some men jobs at a pornography business.
Krasner, speaking after the verdict, referenced another incident that was not discussed at trial: A 2005 complaint from a man who told police Nordo had forced him to masturbate in an interrogation room. The Police Department investigated and referred the case to prosecutors, but Nordo was not charged.
Krasner said the fallout from that decision was “catastrophic,” and said the prosecutor’s office in 2005 “stood for zero accountability for law enforcement — even when they committed crimes against civilians, even when they committed sexual assaults against civilians.”
Attempts Wednesday evening to reach the district attorney at that time, Lynne M. Abraham, were not successful.
Krasner said he believed others in law enforcement likely knew of some of Nordo’s wrongdoing, but declined to say if his office expected to charge others.
Even as Nordo awaited trial, the fallout from his arrest quickly affected cases he’d worked on. Judges have agreed to overturn at least 11 murder convictions in cases Nordo investigated, and the District Attorney’s Office is still reviewing dozens of other convictions linked to him to determine if he committed any misconduct that may have undermined the cases.
In some convictions already vacated, prosecutors said they found evidence that Nordo sought to cultivate witnesses as sexual targets, coerced false confessions, or built cases with weak evidence as his history of misconduct was improperly withheld from defense attorneys.
Asked how Nordo was able to get away with his crimes for so long, Krasner said he believed the detective “operated within a criminal justice culture that did not hold that small portion of law enforcement officers who are criminals accountable.”
“Frankly, what happened here shouldn’t be groundbreaking. It should’ve been the norm,” he said. “But it is groundbreaking in Philadelphia.”
Staff writer Samantha Melamed contributed to this article.