Members of a Philadelphia jury left their box Thursday morning to get a better view of a video shown on a large screen of a May 2018 sidewalk fight that pitted a father and son against two other men and ended with the son fatally shooting both.
The jurors’ request — which Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn Bronson said had never happened before in his courtroom — came on the first full day of deliberations in the trial of Steven Bennett Jr., 23, who is on trial for two counts of voluntary manslaughter.
The playback did not lead to an immediate verdict by the jury of seven men and five women, but it did touch off emotional outbursts from relatives and friends of the two men allegedly slain by Bennett, who claims he shot them in self-defense.
Some shrieked, wailed, and bolted from the courtroom when Bennett appeared on screen, gun drawn, firing at Juvannie Mitchell, who had just punched him, then at Cherinoh Kabba, who was fighting with the defendant’s father, Steven Sr.
Some of those who left the 10th-floor courtroom at the Stout Center for Criminal Justice could be heard yelling and cursing at deputy sheriffs in the hallway. One woman bellowed, “They need to learn how to fight,” an apparent reference to the defendant’s using a gun against the unarmed victims.
Bronson appeared stunned by the outbursts inside and outside the courtroom, and warned that anyone else who disturbed the proceedings would be ejected.
“We understand how horribly upsetting this is, but you know what you’re going to see on the screen,” Bronson said. “I don’t understand you staying in the room and making a scene.”
He said he would not wish to hold relatives of the victims in contempt of court, “but I’ll do it to maintain order, because this is a court of law.”
The fight between the Bennetts and Kabba, 24, and Mitchell, 22, began inside a restaurant in the 6500 block of Elmwood Avenue, before spilling onto the sidewalk where the bullets were fired. The mayhem lasted less than a minute.
Bennett Jr. testified Wednesday that he used his licensed .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun to defend himself and his father after they were attacked.
Assistant District Attorney Tracie Gaydos told the jury that Bennett had brought a gun with 14 bullets and an extra clip with 14 more to a fistfight, and shot both men as they tried to run for their lives.
“Those two men did not have to die," said Gaydos, who asked the jury to convict Bennett.
Defense attorney Gary Server told the jury that the fight began when Bennett Sr. rebuffed Kabba’s request for a loan while father and son were dining in the restaurant.
Before the fighting started, Kabba threatened the Bennetts, said Server, who told the jury that even if his client was mistaken in needing to use deadly force, his actions were reasonable under the circumstances and therefore he should be found not guilty.
The jury is to resume deliberating Friday morning.