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Defendant takes stand in penalty phase of West Philly triple murder

Nalik Scott took the witness stand Thursday at his sentencing hearing in a triple murder and told a jury he didn't feel remorse for the crime - because he didn't do it.

Nalik Scott took the witness stand Thursday at his sentencing hearing in a triple murder and told a jury he didn't feel remorse for the crime - because he didn't do it.

"I can look you all in the eyes and say all this because I was falsely accused," he said, turning toward the family of Porfirio Nunez, Juana Nunez, and Lina Sanchez, who were shot to death during a robbery of their family bodega in 2011.

"I am very, very, very sorry for what happened to your family, and every day I pray the real killers get caught."

From the courtroom pews, Porfirio and Juana's daughters, Jessica and Laura Nunez, stared back in silence.

They had been in the West Philadelphia bodega when their parents and aunt were murdered. On the stand themselves two weeks ago, they identified Scott as one of the killers.

On Wednesday, Scott, 35, and his codefendant, Ibrahim Muhammed, 35, were convicted on three counts of first-degree murder. The Common Pleas Court jury that found them guilty will decide whether to impose the death penalty or a sentence of life in prison without parole.

The Nunez sisters testified Thursday that their lives had been upended by the killings, and that they had to learn how to support themselves and raise their younger brother, who was 13 when their parents were killed.

"When I would try to tell him what to do, he would say, 'You're not my mom,' " Laura Nunez, 22, told the jury. "I never wanted to be my mom. I could never be my mom. But I had to."

Her mother was 44, her father was 50, and her aunt was 48 when they were gunned down inside Lorena's Grocery at 850 N. 50th St. on Sept. 6, 2011.

Later, Jessica Nunez, 24, sobbed as prosecutors projected photos of her family in the courtroom: her aunt smiling on a trip to New York, her father and mother embracing in the store a month before the murders.

Defense attorneys had argued over the course of a nearly three-week trial that Muhammed and Scott were the victims of mistaken identity, and that evidence from other crime scenes connected to the murders showed police had the wrong men.

But a jury convicted the pair after deliberating for just an hour and a half, and on Thursday, the men's lawyers were asking the same jurors for leniency.

Muhammed's attorneys, Larry Krasner and Anthony Voci, said their client suffered a chaotic upbringing, raised largely by his siblings, sometimes in a heatless house owned by his aunt, a crack addict. He developed schizophrenia in his late teens, they said. (During the trial, the defense had argued that the murder confession Muhammed gave detectives was false, taken while he was off his medications.)

His sister, Maryum Muhammed, broke down on the stand as she told the jury of nights spent comforting her older brother as he listened to voices that weren't there.

"Not once in my life have I been afraid of him," she said, sobbing. "He's innocent. I'm sorry, Ibrahim."

Scott's defense attorney, Jack McMahon, called 15 character witnesses to the stand before calling Scott himself.

Neighbors and family members described him as a staple on his South Philadelphia block who bought water ice for local kids and shoveled sidewalks for elderly neighbors. His father and 15-year-old brother were both killed in shootings, Scott testified.

"I can't imagine what they're going through," Scott said of the Nunez family. "Multiple people in the family murdered - I don't know what I would do."

Scott's mother tried to speak on his behalf, but became too distraught and collapsed in the courtroom, halfway to the witness stand. Scott was the last witness to speak.

"You've seen multiple people come in here and tell stories about me, which are true," he said. But the cookouts he organized and gifts he gave to neighbors and friends were paid for with "drug proceeds and drug profits" from heroin and crack sales, he said. "I'm not an angel."

In his opening statements Thursday, McMahon had told the jury his client dealt drugs and had pleaded guilty to a previous armed robbery over a drug payment. "It's important that you see the whole person," he said. "You're going to see a human not consistent with what you say he is."

On cross-examination Thursday, prosecutor Carlos Vega pressed Scott on his address to the Nunez family.

"You said you have no remorse - looking at those two girls," Vega said of the bodega killings.

"I don't," Scott said. "Looking at those two girls, I have sympathy."

Later, Jessica Nunez said that, spent from another day of testimony, she had been trying not to listen to Scott until he addressed her family. "I just don't understand how he says he doesn't have any remorse," she said.

She said she was glad that prosecutors had shown the photos of her parents.

"At least," she said, "they know who they killed."

Both sides are set to make closing arguments Friday morning, before the jury begins deliberating.

215-854-2961 @aubreyjwhelan