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Man pleads in violent home-invasion, store-robbery spree

Marcus Bowens was one of 16 defendants charged by the feds in a string of brazen armed robberies.

A Philadelphia man accused of participating in violent home invasions and in the attempted robbery of a Center City jewelry store pleaded guilty Monday.

Marcus Bowens, 25, was one of 16 suspects charged by the feds.

The U.S. Attorney's Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in announcing arrests in the case in May, have said the "serial-robbery gang" sought drugs, jewelry and cash as part of a nearly two-year "audacious crime spree" that spanned from September 2012 through April 2014.

Bowens, dressed Monday in a short-sleeved, forest-green prison jumpsuit, pleaded guilty to 11 counts - charges of robbery, attempted robbery, conspiracy, carjacking, attempted possession with intent to deliver cocaine, and carrying and using a firearm during a crime of violence.

A good part of the plea hearing was conducted in a private sidebar discussion among Assistant U.S. Attorney Salvatore Astolfi, defense attorney Stephen Britt and U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg or by reference to plea documents being kept under seal.

Astolfi and Britt both declined comment after the hearing.

According to court documents, Bowens participated with alleged ringleader Khalil Smith in the most heinous of the crimes, including four home invasions - one in which a male victim was waterboarded in a tub and another in which another man had his head shoved into a toilet.

At about 1:15 a.m. April 16, 2014, Smith, Bowens and four other men are accused of sneaking into a house on Regent Street near 61st in Southwest Philly, while three others stayed outside as lookouts. The intruders believed the victims were drug dealers - but they were wrong, Astolfi has previously said.

Inside the home lived a pregnant woman, her husband and their 4-year-old child. The armed,masked men tied the woman's wrists and ankles with shoestrings. They pistol-whipped the husband, handcuffed him and tied his ankles with shoestrings, according to court documents.

They then forced him into a bathtub, poured boiling water on his upper thigh and crotch area, and threatened to kill him. They also forced him to lay in the tub as they placed a towel over his face and poured water on the part of the towel that covered his mouth, according to court documents.

The intruders also poured oil onto the male victim and threatened to sodomize him, and also threatened to sodomize his wife, who was six months pregnant, whom they forced to strip naked, according to court documents.

After realizing they had the wrong house, the intruders allegedly warned the victims not to call the cops, then stole their car.

Bowens was also accused of participating in a Nov. 7, 2013, armed home-invasion robbery in Hatfield, Montgomery County, in which he, Smith and others allegedly ambushed a man at his home about 5:10 a.m.

The victim was forced into a bathroom, where his head was shoved into the toilet. He was then pushed onto the floor, tied at his wrists and ankles with zip ties and an electrical cord, beaten and gagged, according to the feds.

The robbers stole the victim's BMW, cellphones, about $800 in cash and his laptop computers.

Bowens was also accused of participating in an attempted robbery of the Platinum Jewelers store, on Market Street near 11th, at about 11:45 a.m. July 15, 2013. After two alleged conspirators entered the store, posing as customers, Bowens and Smith allegedly went in, disguised as undercover cops, wearing bulletproof vests.

After a female employee pushed an alarm button, notifying police, the men fled the store.

A July 12 trial date has been set for Smith and other defendants. Besides Bowens, a couple of other defendants have pleaded guilty.

One defendant, Hasan Chaney, remains a fugitive.