Whether Texas street preacher Eddie Ray Wright is a victim, like the four people found captive in a Tacony basement - or is part of the alleged conspiracy to steal their government benefits - is a question a Philadelphia jury will decide.
After an hour-long second preliminary hearing for Wright on Thursday, Common Pleas Court Judge Paula Patrick ordered Wright held for trial on assault, kidnapping, conspiracy, and related charges.
On Oct. 15, police responding to a complaint found four mentally challenged adults - malnourished, abused, and locked in a fetid basement boiler room in the 4700 block of Longshore Avenue.
Wright was arrested with alleged mastermind Linda Ann Weston, 52; her boyfriend, Gregory Thomas, 48; and her daughter, Jean McIntosh, 32.
But at a Dec. 19 preliminary hearing, Municipal Judge Patrick F. Dugan dismissed charges against Wright. Dugan said he believed the evidence showed Wright was as much a victim of Weston's alleged scheme as the four captives he guarded and slept with each night in the makeshift prison.
The District Attorney's Office appealed and got a new preliminary hearing before Patrick, who ordered Wright held for trial with his three codefendants.
Wright, 51, unshaven and dressed in a wrinkled white T-shirt and slacks, said nothing at the ruling. He shook his head in apparent disbelief as deputy sheriffs led him from the Criminal Justice Center courtroom.
"Nothing has changed," defense attorney Louis F. D'Onofrio argued, trying to persuade Patrick to dismiss charges.
"There is still not one shred of evidence that Eddie Wright got any money" from Weston, D'Onofrio told the judge.
D'Onofrio noted that each night, Gregory Thomas locked Wright in the subbasement with the four captives.
"Why sleep inside a hot dungeon he's guarding when there's a whole basement above them?" D'Onofrio asked.
"That's a ludicrous argument," responded Assistant District Attorney Erin O'Brien. "He got out every day."
O'Brien said Wright also abused the four captives: "He was beating the victims for sport. He didn't beat them because he was ordered to, he beat them because he was angry."
O'Brien introduced additional evidence Thursday that she said showed Wright and Weston together purchased the 1994 Dodge van in which the four captives were chained and transported in Florida before coming to Philadelphia.
Wright's name also appeared on Social Security disability applications for one of the mentally challenged adults and two of Weston's children, O'Brien said. On one application, Wright allegedly identified himself as a friend and on the others as a pastor, teacher, or counselor.
O'Brien also introduced a Sept. 1, 2011, money transfer in which Wright allegedly wired $400 to Weston.
D'Onofrio argued that there was no evidence Wright actually wrote and signed the documents or wire transfer. Weston or Thomas could have easily forged Wright's name, he added.
"Linda Weston had everybody's financial information in her purse," D'Onofrio said.
Patrick, however, ruled that the new evidence, and the 460-page transcript of the Dec. 19 hearing, provided sufficient cause to hold Wright for trial with the others.