One day after turning 18, Tyseem Murray fatally shot another teen on a darkened Southwest Philadelphia street last October, and three months after that, he brazenly walked into a corner store and gunned down the 31-year-old clerk, a city prosecutor said during a preliminary hearing Tuesday.
After being arrested in January, Murray confessed to slaying Zyqueire Echevarria, 15, and Xiano Ding Li, 31, Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore told Municipal Judge David Conroy, who ordered the defendant to stand trial on two counts of murder, all related charges, and for an armed robbery committed shortly after the last slaying.
Murray, who will turn 19 next month, hung his head during most of the hearing, which took place in the near-empty Stout Center for Criminal Justice, which is still not officially open to the public due to the coronavirus shutdown.
The shootings of Echevarria and Li came amid an epidemic of gun violence in the city. Through midnight, 334 people had been killed this year in Philadelphia, an increase of 34% compared with the same time last year.
Homicide detectives Vincent Parker and Chris Sweeney testified Tuesday that after Murray was arrested Jan. 17, he waived his rights to remain silent and to have a lawyer, and confessed to committing both slayings.
“I had to tell the truth,” Parker said he heard Murray telling his mother by phone. “He told his mom that he did kill the people, and he apologized for putting her through this,” Sweeney said.
Defense attorney Walter Chisholm said the confessions were phony, the product of a scared teenager being interrogated by detectives with decades of combined experience.
“Confessions are fraught with all kinds of difficulties, especially when dealing with young Black men,” Chisholm said in an interview after the hearing, noting the notorious “Central Park Five” case in New York, in which five defendants were exonerated years after confessing to raping and beating a woman jogger in 1989. “That’s where we are. He had just turned 18 just before the first alleged incident. The homicide detectives had over a hundred years of experience. Under those circumstances, there’s no equitable way those confessions should be deemed reliable.”
The gunman’s face was not visible in videos of both slayings, which were played in court, the attorney said. The detectives, however, testified that the black clothing the gunman wore in the second slaying inside the store was recovered at Murray’s home in the 5400 block of Bartram Drive. The handgun linked to the slayings by ballistic evidence was also recovered at the defendant’s home, Parker testified.
Video showed the victim standing with a group of male and female teens when someone on a bike stopped, shot Echevarria in the chest, and then pedaled away with another biker. Murray allegedly told detectives he and the victim had a “beef” and he fired because he thought one of the victim’s friends had gone into a house for a gun.
In the second slaying, video showed a gunman in a black coat, face mask and hoodie walked into the J.D. Hoyu grocery store in the 900 block of Porter Street and point a handgun at Li, who is sitting behind the counter. Li stood, reached toward the gun with his left hand then was out of camera view as the gunman continued to fire.
The gunman fled with another man who stood at the door during the fatal encounter. Nothing was stolen, but Murray told detectives that he went to the store — owned by Li’s family — to rob it and fired his gun because he thought the victim was reaching for a Taser, Sweeney testified.