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2 Tacony men found guilty of 1st degree murder

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Two Tacony men charged in a 2007 racially tinged double slaying were found guilty Monday of first degree murder, and now face the death penalty.

Gerald Drummond, 26, and Robert McDowell, 28, will be sentenced to life or put on death row for the July 13, 2007, slayings of Damien Holloway, 27, and Timothy Clark, 15, in the 6900 block of Vandike Street.

In a concession to the end-of-year holidays, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes said the penalty hearing will start on Jan. 4, 2011. Jurors will decide if they get life in prison or are sentenced to death.

There are 218 people on death row in Pensylvania, and the last execution was in 1999, when serial killer Gary Heidnik halted his appeals. Post-conviction death penalty appeals typically last for years.

The jury of seven women and five men who found the two guilty heard testimony from witnesses who described bad blood between Drummond and Holloway because of race - Drummond and McDowell are white - and because Holloway had a child with Drummond's sister.

Prosecutors said Drummond ordered Holloway and Clark to kneel on the sidewalk, hands clasped behind their heads, and told McDowell to shoot them.

When McDowell said he couldn't do it Drummond took the revolver and shot the teen in the back of the head and Holloway in the face as he tried to run.

McDowell showed no emotion as the verdict was read. As he was escorted out of the courtroom he turned, waved to relatives and softly said, "Don't worry about it."

Jurors then declared Drummond guilty of first degree murder. Dressed in a green shirt and with tatoos on his hands partially hidden by the sleeves, Drummond shook his head dismissively as the verdict was read.

The gun was never recovered, and there was no blood, DNA, or other forensic evidence that linked McDowell and Drummond to the murders. But by September 2008, detectives testified, the men had told enough friends for them to be arrested.

A procession of those friends - mostly heroin addicts, tearful and terrorized, with criminal records - testified against the pair. Several said Drummond boasted of killing Holloway for disrespecting his sister and Clark because he was "a loose end."

Assistant District Attorney Carlos Vega acknowledged the criminal and drug problems of his witnesses but argued that the information they said came from Drummond and McDowell could only have been known by the killers. Vega said his witnesses' shaky bearing was caused by fear of retaliation from the Drummond and McDowell families.

One of Drummond's brothers, Michael, 24, was charged with intimidating a trial witness last week in a courthouse hallway. He is in custody pending a preliminary hearing on Dec. 29. Other witnesses described intimidation by Drummond's older brother, David, 28, or McDowell's sister, Tara, 25, who is married to Gerald Drummond and the mother of his two children.

Vega said the penalty hearing was delayed because "it would not be fair to the jury," to keep them in court during the holiday season. That hearing is expected to last two or more days.

Family members of the two victims were escorted out of the courthouse by police.

Defense attorneys Gary Server, for McDowell, and Michael E. Wallace, for Drummond, said they will be putting on mitigating evidence in an attempt to keep their clients off death row.