A federal jury on Monday found drug kingpin Kaboni Savage guilty of ordering the 2004 North Philadelphia rowhouse firebombing that killed four children and two adults, one of the worst cases of witness retaliation in city history.
After a week of deliberations, jurors convicted the 38-year-old onetime professional boxer of all 17 charges against him, including racketeering, arson, and murder, related to those killings and six others. Next week, the panel of nine women and three men will start to decide whether Savage should die for his crimes.
Jurors convicted Savage's 30-year-old sister, Kidada, of helping to plot the October 2004 predawn attack on the family home of Eugene "Twin" Coleman, a onetime associate in their ring who was cooperating with the FBI. Two others were convicted of related charges.
As the verdicts were read in U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick's courtroom, another Savage sister cursed aloud and was ushered from the room.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer praised the decisions. "We're very pleased and gratified that the jury saw it the way they did," he said later.
Savage is already serving a 30-year prison sentence for drug trafficking. But the trial testimony recounted a decadelong FBI investigation that showed how a 1990s street dealer used murder and violence to become one of the city's biggest, most feared traffickers.
Jurors heard how Savage casually gunned down Kenneth Lassiter in 1998 because Lassiter bumped his car as they both tried to park on the street. They heard how he routinely ordered hits against rivals who threatened him, or the success of the network he operated in the Hunting Park section.
As much as anything, jurors heard Savage cackle and boast about the violence he had wrought or hoped to do, especially against people who betrayed him.
"That's all I dream about - killing rats," Savage said in one of scores of secretly recorded jailhouse conversations played for the jury. "Their kids gonna pay, their mother gonna pay."
That's what authorities said Savage intended after Coleman, a longtime friend and close associate, was arrested on drug charges and agreed in 2004 to become a government witness.
Prosecutors played the cryptic phone conversations Savage had from prison the night before the firebombing, first with his sister, then with Lamont Lewis, one of his enforcers.
Lewis, the star government witness, told jurors that Savage ordered the bombing and Kidada Savage gave him the address and showed him the house on North Sixth Street where she said Coleman's mother and twin brother would be.
Lewis said that he enlisted his cousin, Robert Merritt Jr., for the job and that both men tossed cans full of gas into the house. He said he fired gunshots up the stairs to keep the occupants from leaving, and later sat blocks away watching the house burn.
He only learned hours later that four children, including Coleman's 15-month-old son, had perished in the blaze. When he confronted Kidada Savage, Lewis said, she told him: "F- them."
Prosecutors also played for jurors secretly recorded prison tapes of Kaboni Savage joking about the murders, including one in which he said that on the way to his relatives' funerals, Coleman should get some barbecue sauce and "pour it on them burned bitches."
Savage's court-appointed lawyers, Christian Hoey and William Purpura, urged jurors not to be swayed by the jailhouse bravado, or the testimony of criminals like Lewis, who has admitted to 11 murders. They portrayed Savage as a street dealer - not a kingpin - and suggested others had just as much reason to retaliate against Coleman.
Neither Savage nor his codefendants testified at trial, and it was unclear whether he would do so during his sentencing phase.
Hoey declined to comment on the verdict.
But jurors sent a mixed message to Merritt, 32. They convicted him of participating in the racketeering conspiracy to commit murder but acquitted him of the actual arson - a verdict that perplexed his relatives and his lawyers, William Spade and Paul George.
"We are gratified by the six not-guilty verdicts," Spade said after the hearing, "but we're just trying to figure out what the guilty verdict means."
Prosecutors say Merritt still faces life in prison, as does Kidada Savage. Her lawyers, Christopher Phillips and Teresa Whalen, said they respected the jury's decision.
Surrick did not schedule their sentencing hearings.
A fourth defendant, Steven Northington, 41, was convicted of two counts related to other murders. He also faces the death penalty, in a separate proceeding that will follow Savage's hearing. Each hearing is expected to last a week or more.