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Guilty plea in Salvation Army collapse case?

A hearing is set for Tuesday in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.

It seems a guilty plea could be in the works for Sean Benschop, the operator of the excavator the morning of June 5, 2013 when an unsupported three-story brick wall toppled onto the roof of a Salvation Army thrift store in Center City, killing six and injuring 13.

Philadelphia court records show that Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson has set a hearing for Tuesday for a possible guilty plea by Benschop, 43, in the deadly collapse.

Benschop's attorney William Davis, could not immediately be reached for comment; neither could the prosecutors handling the case, Assistant District Atttorneys Edward Cameron and Jennifer Selber.

A guilty plea by Benschop could be a logical after May's hearing where Davis tried unsuccessful to prevent prosecutors from using post-collapse blood tests that showed Benschop had a chemical component of marijuana and traces of a prescription narcotic in his blood. That evidence could make it likely a trial jury would find him guilty of the six counts of third-degree murder he faces. Under Pennsylvania law, prosecutors may seek a sentence of life in prison without parole for anyone convicted of more than one count of third-degree murder.

One source familiar with the case said a guilty plea to multiple counts of involuntary manslaughter would enable Benschop to escape a life prison term. The bigger question is whether Benschop might cooperate further, even testifying against others at trial.

So far, Benschop and Griffin Campbell, 51, the demolition contractor who hired him, are the only two people criminally charged in the deadly collapse at 22d and Market Streets. A Philadelphia County grand jury that spent two years investigating the collapse expired June 12; no additional persons have been charged and no report has been issued.

If Benschop does plead guilty, it would leave Campbell the sole person facing trial for a role in the collapse. Campbell is charged with six counts of third degree murder and 13 counts of reckless endangerment.

Bronson has  scheduled the start of jury selection for Sept. 21 with testimony expected to begin Sept. 28.