The defendants' statements told a chilling tale: a group of teens who skipped school early, roamed around The Gallery mall, and then, for the fun of it, headed to the subway concourse and jumped someone - someone random, someone who turned out to be Sean Patrick Conroy.
"We all saying we didn't want to come downtown for nothing," said Ameer Best, 17, in his statement, which was read in court yesterday. So, they decided to "jump" the next person they saw, he said.
"I was the first one to hit the guy," said Arthur Alston, 16, in his statement, adding that he "didn't mean to kill the guy."
As a detective read this comment in court, Alston appeared to stifle a laugh as Best whispered to him.
Another defendant, Rasheem Bell, 16, said in his statement that before they went to the subway concourse, it was his friend, referred to in statements only as Tim, who said, "Somebody's scared to hit."
Bell added in his statement that they had the intention of "catching a body, but it wasn't. We didn't go downtown to catch a body, only Arthur did." The street term, "to catch a body," refers to knocking someone down with a punch.
Conroy, 36, a friendly Philadelphia-loving Starbucks manager, who had a fiancee and doting parents, was walking on the underground concourse near 13th and Market streets when he was attacked from behind about 2:30 p.m. on March 26. He was headed to the Starbucks where he worked at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown at 12th and Market streets.
The assault triggered a deadly asthma attack, Bennett G. Preston, an assistant medical examiner, testified yesterday. Conroy was pronounced dead about a half-hour after the attack.
After the preliminary hearing, Municipal Judge James M. DeLeon held all five teens - Best, Alston, Bell; Nashir Fisher, 16; and Kinta Stanton, 16 - for trial on charges of third-degree murder and conspiracy.
All five, who were students at Simon Gratz High School, allegedly told police in their statements that they had been at the scene of the attack. While some details differed, most identified Alston as throwing the first punch with others joining in. Fisher claimed he had not hit Conroy.
Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Juliano Coelho said after the hearing that police know who Tim is, but she would not comment on whether he had been questioned.
SEPTA Transit Police Sgt. Chris Hannigan testified that he had been standing on the eastbound platform of the Market-Frankford El when he "heard a yell" from the opposite concourse.
He said he had seen Conroy crouching, "with his left arm raised as if in a defensive posture."
The tallest youth said, "You, bitch," as he "drew his hand back as far as he could and threw a punch" at Conroy's head, Hannigan said. "Once the tall gentleman threw the punch, then the other punches were thrown." Best, a muscular, lanky youth, is the tallest of the five teens.
Hannigan said he raced to the victim, who was "kneeling, looking up at me, . . . hanging on to the middle rail. The soles of his feet were straight up in the air as if his knees buckled. I asked him what happened. He just looked up at me gasping."
After about two minutes, Conroy became unconscious, he said.
SEPTA Police Officer Omari Bervine testified that he was driving a police "golf cart" on the underground concourse near 13th Street when he "heard loud laughter" and saw four men surrounding someone.
He said the victim staggered, struggled to stay on his feet and screamed in distress, he said.
One of the young men noticed him and they all ran away, he said. Bervine ran after one youth, whom he caught, and identified in court as Stanton.
Preston testified that Conroy suffered at least two blows to his head, abrasions and four fractured ribs from being stomped.
Conroy had asthma, but did not take medicine for it, Preston said. When defense attorneys suggested that Conroy's asthma attack could have been brought on by something other than the assault, Preston said emphatically, "No, no, zero chance."
Judge DeLeon, after hearing that all defendants had no prior arrest history but had school records that included suspensions, absences and tardiness, set bail for four of the teens at $35,000, with the condition that if they post the required 10 percent, they be placed under house arrest with electronic monitoring.
The judge set bail at $34,000 for Best because the teen had said in his statement that he had gone to church to "pray and ask for forgiveness."
After the hearing, Alston's mother, Yvonne Watson, wept profusely and walked up to Conroy's mother, Sharon Conroy, and said, "I'm sorry."
Conroy's father, Stephen Conroy, told reporters with a crack in his voice: "Today was really tough, to hear about him alone on that platform and dying the way he did."
He said he wasn't bothered by the bail amount. "You know, I don't know that sending these kids to jail is the answer. . . . They already killed somebody. What are we going to do, send them to finishing school so they can do it better next time, get away next time?"