Analyzing cellphone call records, a Philadelphia homicide detective told a Common Pleas Court jury Monday, led him to conclude that Will "Pooh" Hook was the "controlling figure" behind the 2009 double slaying at the Piazza at Schmidts complex in Northern Liberties.
"Clearly he was the one controlling figure in that they all called to talk to [Hook] or they got contacted by him," Detective Ronald Dove testified.
Dove was the only prosecution witness to testify Monday in the trial of three men charged in the June 27, 2009, deaths of Rian Thal, 34, and Timothy Gilmore, 40, who police say were killed in a drug robbery gone wrong.
In addition to Hook, 43, also known as Keith Epps, alleged gunmen Edward Daniels, 44, and Antonio Wright, 30, are on trial for felony murder. All three face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole if the jury finds them guilty.
Dove's exhaustive review of call patterns from cellphones identified as belonging to the three defendants and others involved in the incident began the second week of testimony in a trial some had worried might not continue.
On Friday, Donnell Murchison, 35, the only gunman to plead guilty, threw the trial into turmoil when he took the witness stand and refused to testify for prosecutors.
Murchison's refusal to honor the terms of his plea deal - he escaped the death penalty in exchange for his testimony and two consecutive life prison terms - raised the possibility that the case might end in a mistrial.
Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart on Friday ordered prosecution and defense lawyers to be ready to address the question of whether Murchison should be held in contempt of court and how the trial could continue.
But when the trial resumed Monday, Minehart chose a different course: He told the jury of seven women and five men that Murchison's refusal to answer questions by defense lawyers made his testimony unusable.
"You have to strike his testimony, strike him from your memory bank as if he didn't testify," Minehart said.
Minehart did not cite Murchison for contempt of court. Nor did prosecutors annul Murchison's plea deal, which would mean he could be tried in the homicides and again face the death penalty.
The three defense attorneys did not publicly renew their request for a mistrial, although defense attorney Christopher D. Warren argued that a judge's instruction to a jury to disregard hours of witness testimony would not withstand a challenge on appeal.
The lawyers are bound by a gag order that bars them from commenting on the case to reporters.
Although Murchison on Friday refused to answer Warren's questions, Assistant District Attorney Carlos Vega got Murchison to confirm the elements of his two statements to homicide detectives in which he incriminated Hook, Daniels, and Wright.
Thal and Gilmore were shot dead in the hallway outside her seventh-floor apartment in the Piazza's Navona building. The gunmen confronted Thal, a party planner, and Gilmore, an Ohio-based long-distance trucker; prosecutors say the two were also involved in the city's drug trade. Gilmore tried to flee and the gunmen opened fire.
The gunmen then fled, leaving behind what they came for: more than $100,000 in cash and 8 1/2 pounds of cocaine that police later found in Thal's apartment.
The cellphone analysis did not involve audio recordings of the calls, and Warren stressed that point in his cross-examination, noting that someone else could have used Hook's phone.
Rather, Dove analyzed a pattern of calls involving the phones of Hook and seven others charged in the two slayings, as well as the phones of others who were not charged but who prosecutors say may have played peripheral roles.
Dove's testimony undercut Murchison's in one respect. Murchison said that Hook had called Thal - who he asserted was in on the scheme - moments before his gunmen went up to the seventh floor to carry out what was to have been a staged robbery.
Dove, however, said there was no record of a call between Hook and Thal in the hour before the 5:17 p.m. shootings.
But Dove said there was a record of a four-second call from Hook to Thal at 4:16 a.m. the day of the shootings. This was shortly after prosecutors say Hook and admitted accomplice Robert Keith, 30, mistakenly broke into the apartment below Thal's in the belief that it contained the cache of cash and cocaine.