After spending the last 10 months in jail awaiting trial, Shawn Yarbray was found not guilty Thursday afternoon of trying to rob and kill Philadelphia City Councilman David Oh in front of the councilman's Southwest Philadelphia home.
The verdict, on the first day of jury deliberations in Common Pleas Court, resulted from the failure of the District Attorney's Office to present evidence corroborating Oh's testimony that pointed to Yarbray as his attacker, said juror Kathleen Taintor.
"I was holding out for a guilty verdict because I believed the councilman, but then there was no corroborating evidence," said Taintor, a paralegal. "So basically, if there was some corroborating evidence — the knife was found, there was DNA, or a bloody shirt or something — that would have established it more clearly. But without that corroborating evidence, the only thing to go on was the testimony of Councilman Oh."
The jury also included two city corrections officers, two accountants, a makeup artist, a teacher's aide, a registered nurse, retirees, and several customer service employees.
The jury forewoman, who would not give her name and declined to comment, was overheard telling Yarbray's relatives and friends on the courthouse sidewalk, "He's a good-looking guy, he don't need to be in jail."
During the conversation, the forewoman gave Yarbray's father, Karif Roberts, a pamphlet from her church.
Yarbray, 25, of the Kingsessing section of the city, showed no outward emotion when the verdict was read, but his family and friends appeared relieved, grateful to his defense attorney, Samuel C. Stretton, and respectful toward Oh, who was not in court when the verdict was read.
"For Councilman Oh, I'm sorry that an ordeal did happen to him, but like I said, it was not my child. It was not my son. Maybe someday the police will find the person who did do it," said Roberts, who testified as a character witness for his son.
Reached by phone, Oh, an at-large Republican, said he respects the verdict but stands by his belief that Yarbray attacked him, puncturing his right lung and slashing an arm.
"I'm not disappointed. [The verdict] is the result of having due process and a system of justice that we put our faith in, but which is not perfect," said Oh, who added that he's hopeful Yarbray has changed for the better since the attack.
In court, Stretton hammered away at the fact that the prosecution's only evidence was Oh's identification of Yarbray in a police file photo two days after the May 31, 2017, attack. The lawyer told the jury that eyewitness testimony has been proven unreliable, especially when the witness and the accused are of different races. Oh is Asian American; Yarbray is African American.
The racially diverse jury included no black men.
Stretton argued that if Oh had gotten such a good look at his attacker, it was hard to understand why he failed to notice — and to tell police — that the man had two moles on his nose and a tattoo on his right hand, which held the knife. Yarbray showed the jury that he has two moles and a hand tattoo.
Stretton took aim at Oh's description to police that the attacker resembled the drug-addict character portrayed by Chris Rock in the 1991 film New Jack City. During his closing argument Wednesday, the lawyer held up a photo of his client and a photo of Rock's movie character. "This is not what my client looked like," he told the jury.
"I truly believed that my client was innocent," Stretton said after leaving the courthouse. "I think the jury struggled with that issue in terms of the strong identification that Councilman Oh made, but they came to recognize the argument that we made of the inherent unreliability of identification without other corroboration. So I think justice was done."
Assistant District Attorney Lori Edelman-Orem, who tried the case, could not be reached for comment afterward. Ben Waxman, a spokesman for the office, said: "We feel that we had a strong case. We felt that our witnesses performed extremely well on the witness stand. But we respect the process and the findings of the jury."