Kareem Johnson, one of the convicted killers of 10-year-old Faheem Thomas-Childs, whose 2004 death shocked the city, was sent to Death Row yesterday by a jury that convicted him of first-degree murder in a separate deadly shooting.
As the foreman announced the panel's verdict of "death" in a hushed Common Pleas courtroom, Johnson, 22, a lanky man with a goatee, showed no emotion.
His father, Terrance Johnson, walked out of the courtroom. One female juror, her eyes red, shook and sobbed.
A few moments later, Terrance Johnson returned. As sheriff's deputies ushered Kareem Johnson out of the room, he looked toward the gallery and smiled at his supporters.
On Monday, the panel had convicted Johnson of first-degree murder, criminal conspiracy and weapons offenses for the 2002 shooting death of Walter Smith, 39, outside a North Philadelphia bar.
The panel of five women and seven men had to reach a unanimous decision to sentence Johnson to death for first-degree murder. Jurors had deliberated for about three hours overall yesterday and the day before.
Common Pleas Judge Carolyn Engel Temin is to sentence Johnson on Tuesday on the conspiracy and weapons convictions.
During Johnson's sentencing hearing, jurors learned he was convicted last year of first-degree murder in the Feb. 11, 2004, shooting of Faheem, a third-grader who was walking to T.M. Peirce Elementary School when a gun battle broke out between rival drug gangs. Johnson fired the stray bullet that hit Faheem in the head.
"Kareem Johnson is one of the most evil, violent killers I have ever come across," Assistant District Attorney Mark Gilson, one of two prosecutors in the Faheem case, said after the sentencing, "and if anyone ever deserves a sentence of death, he does."
Prosecutor Michael Barry, who tried Johnson in Walter Smith's death, said he thought Johnson deserved the death penalty. "How many lines were left for him to cross? He killed a child. He killed a witness."
Barry had argued that Johnson and an unknown gunman shot Smith 12 times on Dec. 15, 2002, because Smith was about to testify in another deadly shooting - one committed by Johnson's pal, Clinton Robinson. Robinson had fatally shot an innocent bystander, Margaret Thomas, 59, in Aug. 2002.
Rhonda Smith, Smith's wife, said yesterday: "I'm happy today that justice is served."
Defense attorney Michael Coard said he would immediately appeal Johnson's death sentence. Coard said he disagreed with the prosecution's contention that his client had a significant history of violent convictions.
In Pennsylvania, three people have been executed since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty nationally in 1976.
Prosecutor Gilson explained that those three "had withdrawn their appeals and no longer continued their legal fight." *