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New courthouse graffiti stirs cop brutality trial

Was it the revenge of Oz?

Was it the revenge of Oz?

Today, the morning after self-described graffitist David Vernitsky - AKA Oz - testified at the assault trial of two former Philadelphia police officers who allegedly broke his jaw after catching him in the act four years ago, the tag "Oz" and "Loves Chrissy" appeared at the city's Criminal Justice Center on the same floor where the trial is taking place.

There's no proof that Vernitsky, 40, wrote what he told the Common Pleas Court jury was his nom de spray-can after leaving the witness stand Wednesday.

But that did not stop the incident from throwing a wrench into the proceedings, delaying testimony from continuing until late in the afternoon.

The graffiti, in one public elevators and a stairwell, were viewed by the jury over the objections of Assistant District Attorney Meriah Russell, who contended they were not relevant to the assault trial of former officers Sheldon B. Fitzgerald and Howard Hill 3d.

But Judge James Murray Lynn agreed with defense attorneys Brian J. McMonagle and Fortunato N. "Fred" Perri Jr., who argued that the jury should be allowed to view the graffiti as a challenge to Vernitsky's credibility during testimony Wednesday.

That testimony apparently did not go well, with Vernitsky admitting several times that he lied. The defense lawyers maintained that the new graffiti arguably showed that Vernitsky believes he can lie and tag with impunity.

The officers were on patrol at about 12:30 a.m. on Aug. 26, 2007 when they allegedly assaulted Vernitsky after catching him spray-painting a wall at Fourth Street and Wyoming Avenue in Feltonville.

Vernitsky testified that the officers beat him, breaking his jaw and knocking out three teeth, before dropping him on the sidewalk a block away.

The two officers have maintained that Vernitsky, who had been drinking and smoking marijuana, fell after being thrown up against the patrol as he was being apprehended.

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