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A sergeant's last moments

SHAKING, her lips trembling, Dicksy Widing told a packed courtroom yesterday about the morning she witnessed Police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski being gunned down right in front of her eyes.

At the Criminal Justice Center, police carry in a box the gun used in the robbery and murder of Liczbinski. (April Saul / Inquirer)
At the Criminal Justice Center, police carry in a box the gun used in the robbery and murder of Liczbinski. (April Saul / Inquirer)Read more

SHAKING, her lips trembling, Dicksy Widing told a packed courtroom yesterday about the morning she witnessed Police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski being gunned down right in front of her eyes.

"I saw him get shot, I was screaming," she testified amid tears. "I was just screaming, 'Help! Help! Help! Call 9-1-1!"

"I was still screaming the whole time. I never stopped," she said of the 11:30 a.m. May 3 shooting in Port Richmond.

When asked by Assistant District Attorney Mark Gilson if Liczbinski said anything, Widing, who had walked to the witness stand gasping and crying, testified: "Yes, he was hollering for help. [He said] 'Tell my wife and my kids I love them.' Then, he tried to say something to us," but a rescue vehicle rushed him away.

As Widing spoke, Liczbinski's widow, Michele, and daughter, Amber, wept as they sat in the front row of the courtroom gallery next to the couple's two sons, Matt and Steve.

After the preliminary hearing yesterday, Municipal Judge Bradley Moss held Levon Warner, 39, of Mantua, and Eric Floyd, 33, of North Philadelphia, for trial on all charges, including first-degree murder, robbery and conspiracy, in Liczbinski's death.

Both men gave statements in which they allegedly confessed to participating with a third man, Howard Cain, 34, of North Philadelphia, in the robbery of a Bank of America in the ShopRite on Aramingo Avenue near Castor moments before the shooting.

Evidence pointed to Cain as the man who shot Liczbinski, 39, five times after the officer pursued their stolen getaway Jeep. Cain was killed by police later that day.

Widing testified that she was outside her house when she first heard a police siren, then saw a cop car pursuing a Jeep on Schiller Street approaching Almond.

The Jeep stopped at the corner, and the front-seat passenger got out. With one foot still in the vehicle, he aimed a rifle over the top of the roof and "points it at the officer's lower body," Widing said, demonstrating with her arms, as if she were firing a rifle.

Liczbinski had just gotten out of his car, she said, which was behind the Jeep.

"I heard bangs," Widing said.

The gunman then turned around to get back into the Jeep, and as he did so, he "pointed [the rifle in] my direction," she testified, adding: "I thought he was going to shoot me."

After defense attorney Gary Server, court-appointed to represent Warner, tried to suggest that the gunman was not actually aiming the rifle at Widing, prosecutor Gilson, in his redirect examination, held up the actual SKS rifle that authorities say was used to kill Liczbinski.

Seeing the rifle, Widing broke down on the stand, crying.

In court, prosecutors also played the last police dispatch to which Liczbinski responded.

At 11:29 a.m., the sergeant confirmed to the dispatcher that he saw the Jeep after the robbery. "I got that vehicle stopped on 3500 Edgemont," he said.

Liczbinski is then heard saying he sees the Jeep going "southbound on Edgemont," then "eastbound Schiller."

"24-Andy still eastbound, coming up on Almond," Liczbinski said, referring to his call sign.

After the dispatcher repeats Liczbinski's location, he waits to hear from him again. He hears nothing. So, he asks, "24-Andy, your location? [Silence . . . ] 24-Andy, your location?" After a few seconds of silence, the dispatcher says, "I had him eastbound on Schiller, last known."

Hearing the radio call, Michele Liczbinski cried as son Steve held her, while daughter Amber shook and cried into her brother Matt's shirt.

In Warner's alleged statement to police, read by Homicide Det. Patrick Mangold, Warner said that after they fled from the ShopRite and were pursued by a police car, "the young boy [Floyd] almost flipped the Jeep over . . . "

Then, Warner said in his statement that with the police car right by them, "The boy [Floyd] that was driving the car started yelling, 'Bang him!' "

Warner said that Cain, who was in the front-passenger seat, then "told me, 'Give me the gun.' " In response, Warner said he handed Cain the rifle.

"That's when [Cain] got out and started shooting at the cop," Warner said.

Floyd, in his statement, read by Homicide Det. Thorsten Lucke, said the killing of the sergeant "was never intended." He expressed remorse and said: "I'm not the monster people make me out to be." Upon hearing this, Liczbinski's daughter shook her head.

While Lucke was on the stand, prosecutors also played 9-1-1 calls made by a female bank teller and by a male ShopRite store manager right after the robbery, and showed a ShopRite surveillance video of three people - said to be Floyd, Cain and Warner.

Floyd and Cain, authorities pointed out, were dressed in full Muslim garb. Warner, they said, was the man disguised with a dreadlocks wig with a blue dust mask covering his mouth.

Floyd, Lucke said, had the SKS rifle in a cardboard box and put it in a shopping cart with his hand at one end of it. He walked and stayed in the produce section of the store as Cain and Warner robbed the bank, authorities said.

Bank employee Brandon Smith testified that one robber - identified by authorities as Cain - pushed a female bank supervisor to the floor before he robbed the bank of about $40,000. Police said yesterday that the money was recovered.

Eerily, the video also showed the three men walking out of the store, one by one, with the store manager sandwiched between them - unaware he was walking next to the alleged robbers as he called 9-1-1 on his cell phone.

Gilson told reporters after the hearing that Cain was ready to shoot a second officer that day.

After Liczbinski's shooting, the three men ditched the Jeep and got into a minivan they had stashed in the neighborhood, he said. They then drove to Louden Street near D, where two officers caught up with them. Floyd and Warner ran, but Cain stayed behind and pulled the rifle out of the van, Gilson said.

He "turns towards the one police officer, charges him, trying to pull the trigger, but the gun jams," Gilson said. " . . . then [police are] able to shoot him and take him down. He was going to kill another cop. There's absolutely no doubt about it. If that gun hadn't jammed, there would have been two police officers killed in the line of duty that day." *