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Murder trial opens in execution-style killings

Even during the deadly Philadelphia summer of 2007, the double murder at 2:20 a.m. on July 13 stood out.

Even during the deadly Philadelphia summer of 2007, the double murder at 2:20 a.m. on July 13 stood out.

There in the 6900 block of Vandike Street in Tacony were the bodies of Damien Holloway, 27, and Timothy Clark, 15, each shot execution-style in the back of the head. Holloway, who cut lawns around the neighborhood, was black; Clark, his helper, was white.

It would take 17 months for Philadelphia homicide detectives to follow a trail of rumors, neighborhood gossip, and guilty consciences, and charge Gerald Drummond and Robert McDowell with the shootings.

On Wednesday in Common Pleas Court, the pair went on trial for their lives, accused of shooting Holloway because he was black and Clark because he was there.

"These two families lost their boys over nothing, over something so stupid, so sad that he [Holloway] was born a certain color," said Assistant District Attorney Carlos Vega in his opening statement to the jury.

Vega said he would seek the death penalty for Drummond, 26, and McDowell, 28, if the jury finds the Tacony men guilty of first-degree murder.

The evidence will show, Vega said, that Drummond killed Holloway not only because of his race but also because he believed Holloway had disrespected Drummond's sister, with whom Holloway had a child.

Clark had to die because he was a witness, "a loose end that had to be tied up," Vega added.

Defense attorneys asked the jurors to keep open minds, saying the pair had been incriminated by criminals and drug users motivated to lie to curry favor with authorities.

Drummond's attorney, Michael E. Wallace, told the jury in his opening that Vega was introducing race into the case as a "peripheral" because there would be no physical evidence - DNA, blood or ballistics - to tie the alleged killers to the crime.

"My client was home with his wife, his kid, his mother and sister and a friend when this happened," Wallace said.

McDowell's attorney, Gary Server, said the prosecution's witnesses would prove to be "of the corrupt, polluted variety."

In fact, the case has torn apart the defendants' part of the Tacony neighborhood because of the connections of key witnesses: Four who testified at the preliminary hearing were friends or relatives who said Drummond and McDowell talked openly of killing Holloway and Clark, and of their reasons for doing so.