A late-night phone call, a favor for a friend - and in a matter of minutes, college student Caren Murphy's life went from good to bad to worse.
Shamari Taylor's request that she drive him somewhere had left Murphy, 21, out late on Aug. 26, 2006, stopped at Woodbine Avenue and Pennington Road in West Philadelphia by vehicles with flashing red lights and men in plainclothes wearing badges and brandishing guns.
"I thought I was about to get locked up. For drugs," Murphy told a Philadelphia jury today in the retrial of Kenneth Tuck in the kidnapping and disappearance of Taylor, 26, the son of state Rep. John Myers (D., Phila).
Murphy testified that she knew Taylor sold drugs, even if she never specifically asked him where he got his money or what was in the plastic bag he put in her trunk that night.
But then Murphy spotted the face of one of the "officers" and recognized a man she knew as Khalif, an older man with whom she had a three-month sexual relationship when she was 15.
"I knew it was something else, because I knew he wasn't a cop," Murphy said.
Murphy, the prosecution's key witness against Tuck, whom she identified as Khalif, will return to the witness stand tomorrow morning in the Common Pleas Court trial before Judge Lisa M. Rau.
Murphy - by turns nervous, frustrated, angry and in tears - today reprised her testimony from the first trial, telling the jury how the men who accosted her and Taylor had handcuffed them, blindfolded them with duct tape, and then drove them to a garage or warehouse, where she listened to Taylor screaming and begging for his life for about 20 minutes.
"You don't need to do this. I can get people to bring you what you want," Murphy testified she heard Taylor telling their captors.
Murphy said she was held for about four hours before her captors drove her to an alley off 31st Street in Strawberry Mansion. She said they told her that they had her driver's license and would kill her family if she told anyone what happened.
After removing the duct tape, Murphy said, she walked to a service station at 31st and York Streets and called her sister about 5:50 a.m. on Aug. 27, 2006.
Tuck, 36, formerly of the Overbrook section of West Philadelphia, remains the only one of about six men identified and charged in Taylor's kidnapping, disappearance and apparent murder.
Today, Assistant District Attorney Gonen Haklay told the jury in his opening statement that the evidence would show that Taylor was a drug dealer.
Haklay called Tuck a "member of this conspiracy to rob this drug dealer of his money and his drugs."
Defense Attorney Gary Silver said he would present alibi witnesses to prove that Tuck was somewhere else at the time of the kidnapping.
"This is a story by one witness - Caren Murphy," Silver said, telling the jury that she lied and implicated Tuck because police did not initially believe her kidnapping story.
An earlier Common Pleas Court jury deadlocked in Tuck's first trial in May 2007.
Although Murphy's testimony was similar to hers in the first trial, Haklay in his opening statement revealed new evidence that was not available in the first trial.
Haklay said a federal drug agent working in South Jersey had helped investigators recover cell-phone records that led to a man named Lester Smith, a drug broker who Haklay said will testify about helping Taylor sell two kilograms of cocaine for about $40,000.
Haklay told the jury that the cell-phone records would show that Smith and another man were in contact with a third alleged drug dealer named Kevin Andrews.
Andrews' cell phone, in turn, was "in almost constant contact with Tuck's house" in the 6200 block of Jefferson Street, Haklay said.
"Kevin Andrews still visits this defendant," Haklay said, gesturing toward Tuck. "He's been knee-deep in this from the first moment."