Three weeks after city prosecutors failed to tell a West Philadelphia beer deli owner about a hearing and plea deal they arranged for an attempted robber who shot him with an AK-47, they let another defendant plead guilty and be sentenced without notifying his victim — a man whose ear he bit off during a fight.
Martin Brennan said he learned on Dec. 10 that Dennis Sharpe, who attacked him in June in South Philadelphia, had pleaded guilty four days earlier to aggravated assault and was sentenced to 1½ to three years in state prison.
“I was shocked, and I couldn’t believe it,” Brennan, 53, said Wednesday.
A spokesperson for District Attorney Larry Krasner confirmed this week that prosecutors didn’t notify Brennan about the plea deal and hearing, a step that would have enabled Brennan to provide input on the deal and deliver an impact statement before Common Pleas Court Judge Rayford Means at the hearing. Krasner’s spokesperson, Ben Waxman, said the sentence was “a just outcome and a successful prosecution of this case.”
The Dec. 6 hearing was possibly the latest instance of Krasner’s office failing to notify a victim of a violent crime of a plea deal for a defendant — which is in violation of the Pennsylvania Crime Victims Act. Both Krasner, a former criminal defense attorney who ran on a reform platform, and Anthony Voci, his homicide chief, have been publicly criticized for not notifying victims' family members of plea deals or of a defendant’s removal from death row in homicide cases, or of notifying them late without giving them an opportunity for timely input.
The pattern attracted further criticism after beer deli owner Mike Poeng wasn’t notified of a Nov. 15 plea deal in which Jovaun Patterson, who shot and critically wounded Poeng last spring with an AK-47, was sentenced to 3½ to 10 years in state prison.
Sharpe’s attack on Brennan in June gained widespread attention after onlookers took cellphone videos of the fight and ear-biting, and the videos were posted on at least three YouTube pages, Instagram, and the World Star Hip Hop website.
Brennan said he was driving home on the afternoon of June 22, and was stuck at a red light at Seventh and Cantrell Streets when Sharpe, 30, approached his van. He said he knew Sharpe — Sharpe had tried to hit him before, he said — and knew he was on drugs that day.
“I knew he would swing on me,” said Brennan. He said he got out of his van to protect himself, and the two men got into a fistfight. At one point, Brennan said, he grabbed Sharpe to try to control him. That’s when Sharpe clamped his teeth on Brennan’s left ear and tugged at it for 10 seconds before ripping it off, according to the videos.
After the two fell, Brennan said, he saw his ear on the ground. Sharpe fled, and Brennan grabbed his ear and drove himself to Jefferson Methodist Hospital in South Philadelphia.
Brennan said he since has undergone three surgeries, including a Dec. 3 six-hour operation in which a doctor reattached the torn part of his ear.
It was a week later, he said, that he learned about Sharpe’s plea hearing from a source whom he declined to name. He said he was “quite upset" with the District Attorney’s Office, then contacted an advocate at Victim/Witness Services of South Philadelphia Inc., whom he had previously met in court on the case. The community-based agency works with, but is separate from, the District Attorney’s Office.
Alison Sprague, the agency’s executive director, said Thursday that after her office learned Brennan did not know about the outcome of his case, her office helped connect him with people in the District Attorney’s Office. But she said that the “the volume of cases may make victim notifications challenging."
Added Sprague: “This problem is not limited to the current [District Attorney’s Office], but is a long-standing concern.”
Krasner’s spokesperson said Thursday that an assistant district attorney previously involved in the case, Matthew Gehrke, attempted to call Brennan in September about an initial plea offer, and that the office’s victim-witness services unit mailed letters to Brennan on July 2 and Sept. 17 to inform him of his rights as a victim.
Brennan said he was never called by anyone in the DA’s Office in September and didn’t receive those letters. The bottom line, Brennan said, is that he wasn’t informed of the Dec. 6 plea deal or hearing.
“Until you show me proof that you reached out to me, you violated my rights,” Brennan said in reference to the District Attorney’s Office.
The plea hearing was handled by Assistant District Attorney Robert Daisey in a courtroom that is typically busy and chaotic with numerous cases and plea offers. Waxman confirmed that Daisey had not informed Brennan of the plea offer or the Dec. 6 hearing.
Brennan said that after contacting the District Attorney’s Office in December to inquire why he hadn’t been notified of the hearing, he received two calls from Liam Riley, supervisor of the office’s pretrial division. In the second call, Brennan said, Riley apologized to him for the lack of notification about the plea hearing, but also said something to the effect of “maybe somebody tried to reach out to you” and mentioned a letter sent from his office.