A Philadelphia man who claimed self-defense in the fatal shootings last year of two people was convicted Friday of one count of voluntary manslaughter, but the jury deadlocked on a second manslaughter charge.
Steven Bennett Jr. had been charged with the fatal shootings of Cherinoh Kabba, 24, and Juvannie Mitchell, 22, about 7:15 p.m. May 9, 2018, in front of BI’s Restaurant in the 6500 block of Elmwood Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia.
The panel of seven men and five women convicted Bennett of manslaughter in Kabba’s killing, but told the judge it could not reach a verdict on the voluntary-manslaughter charge in Mitchell’s death.
Upon hearing the guilty verdict, Bennett put his head on the table in front of him.
Bennett, an honorably discharged member of the Army National Guard with no prior criminal record, had been free on bail. After Friday’s conviction, Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn Bronson granted a request by Assistant District Attorney Tracie Gaydos to revoke bail and ordered Bennett taken into custody. He said sentencing guidelines call for a state prison sentence.
Surrounded by deputy sheriffs, Bennett cried as he walked into the secure hallway for inmates to be taken to jail. Friday was his 24th birthday.
Bennett, who was legally licensed to carry a handgun, was acquitted of possession of an instrument of crime.
On the night of the shootings, Bennett and his father, Steven Sr., were dining in the restaurant when Kabba entered and soon began arguing with the father. After Kabba left the restaurant, the father went after him and threw a punch while they were on the sidewalk, the prosecutor said.
As the son tried to break up the fight, Mitchell punched him, and Bennett Jr. then lifted his shirt and pulled out his weapon, shooting both men in the back as they tried to run, the prosecutor said.
Bennett Jr. testified Wednesday that he used his licensed .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun to defend himself and his father after they were attacked. His attorney, Gary Server, told the jury that the fight began when Bennett Sr. rebuffed Kabba’s request for a loan.
After the verdicts, Bennett Sr. said he felt “horrible.” Mitchell’s mother was upset and did not comment.
Bintu Kabba, 32, Kabba’s sister, said: “I think this serves as a lesson for all people carrying a gun.... It’s not self-defense. You’re shooting somebody in the back.”
She said her brother and Mitchell both had young daughters. Her parents had immigrated to the United States from Guinea, she said.
Bennett’s family had a birthday cake brought up for him earlier in the day as everyone waited outside the courtroom during jury deliberations, she said.
“Now, you sit and cry,” Bintu Kabba said, recalling Bennett’s reaction after the verdicts. “You don’t think you should be responsible for either killing?”
Bronson scheduled Nov. 21 for prosecutors to let him know if they plan to retry Bennett on the deadlocked charge.