IVAN RODRIGUEZ is guilty of stealing a motorcycle at gunpoint and Donta Craddock is guilty of the same robbery and of involuntary manslaughter or vehicular homicide, but neither murdered four people killed by the speeding getaway Pontiac Trans Am minutes after the June 2009 robbery, the two defendants' attorneys told a Philadelphia jury during opening statements Wednesday.
Craddock, 21, who was behind the wheel and paralyzed from the waist down during the fiery crash, sped away not because he was fleeing the robbery but because he thought that a pursuing police officer was going to arrest him on a warrant for not returning to a juvenile-detention center after Easter break, defense attorney Michael Farrell said.
"The prosecution simply cannot handle the truth that the robbery and the deaths are not related," Farrell said.
After stealing William Sandoval's Yamaha motorcycle on Rising Sun Avenue near Somerville, Craddock drove the Trans Am in one direction, and Rodriguez, 23, drove in the opposite direction toward his North 8th Street home, his attorney, Rania Maria Major-Trunfio, said.
When the police tracked the stolen bike to his home about an hour later, she said, Rodriguez had no knowledge about the crash, on 3rd Street near Annsbury.
"The conspiracy [to commit robbery] was over," Major-Trunfio insisted. "He had no way to stop anything that he had no control over."
Killed by the out-of-control car the evening of June 10, 2009, were Remedy Smith, who was two days shy of her first birthday; her cousin, Aaliyah Griffin, 6; and their friend and neighbor, Gina Marie Rosario, 7. Remedy's mother, LaToya Smith, 22, died of her injuries the next day.
Assistant District Attorney Jude Conroy told the jury of eight men and four women that under the state's felony-murder law both defendants were equally responsible for the deaths because they set in motion a four-minute, unbroken chain of events that began with the robbery and ended 1.7 miles later with Craddock smashing into the victims.
He asked the jury to convict each of four counts of second-degree murder. That would result in both receiving mandatory life-without-parole state prison sentences.
"When you engage in a dangerous, violent felony, you are responsible for deaths that result," Conroy said. "You don't have to intend that death results, but it's a consequence and you will be held responsible." n