All five North Philadelphia teens arrested in the death of a man who suffered a fatal asthma attack when he was jumped in a Center City subway station in March admit they were there, but they agree on little else.
One thing that is certain is that Arthur Alston, 16, even by his own admission, delivered the first blow that triggered the frenzied attack that left Sean Patrick Conroy desperately gasping for air and broke four of his ribs.
"I didn't want to kill the guy," Alston said in a statement to detectives read in court yesterday. "I wish it never happened."
Unanswered are why the teens attacked - one explanation was that it was some sort of challenge - and questions about a sixth assailant who has not been charged.
After a preliminary hearing yesterday, Municipal Court Judge James DeLeon ordered the five to stand trial on charges of third-degree murder and conspiracy.
He also set bail at $35,000 for four of the defendants and $34,000 for the fifth, with the stipulation that they be held under house arrest if they are released.
DeLeon said he gave Ameer Best, 17, the lower bail "for going to church that day and asking for forgiveness," a point the teen made in his statement to homicide detectives.
In their statements, three of the defendants - Best; Kinta Stanton, 16; and Nashir Fisher, 16 - claimed they did not hit Conroy when they surrounded him on March 26 at the 13th and Market Street station.
However, Best said he did swing at the victim so his friends would not think he was "a punk," and Stanton said he was about to hit Conroy when a police officer suddenly arrived.
The five also spoke of a sixth participant, identified only as Tim, a friend of defendant Rasheem Bell, 16, who joined them in Center City as they played hooky from Simon Gratz High School.
According to their statements, the group had been hanging out in the Gallery and were heading to catch a train when they came upon Conroy, a Starbucks manager.
There were different explanations for the attack.
Alston said he struck after someone in the group said, "Hey, that guy gave me a dirty look."
Best, however, said Tim planted the seed when he told the group, "I didn't come downtown for nothing."
Bell said Tim and Alston had been asking, "Are y'all scared to hit somebody?"
Fisher said the group simply "started to go at him" when Alston punched Conroy.
The accounts also differed on whether Tim actually touched Conroy - with Bell saying he didn't and and Alston saying he saw Tim kick the victim.
"We didn't go downtown to catch a body," Bell said, using a street term associated with murder.
Transit Police Officer Omari Bervine testified he arrived on a police golf cart during the beating and saw Conroy surrounded by four assailants.
Bervine, who chased down and arrested Stanton, identified defendant Bell in court as one of those who fled.
Bennett G. Preston, assistant medical examiner, said an autopsy showed that Conroy suffered a severe, stress-induced asthma attack that cut off oxygen to the brain, killing him.
He said that Conroy had been punched at least four times and that a powerful kick to his chest broke his ribs.
During the hearing, relatives of the defendants filled one side of the courtroom and applauded when DeLeon asked, "What happened to Tim?"
Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Coelho offered no answer, telling the judge that was "a matter for another time."
Homicide detectives said yesterday the investigation was continuing.
Outside court, Conroy's parents said it was hard for them and his fiancee, Stephanie Johar, to sit through the proceedings.
Particularly painful, Steve Conroy said, was hearing details of his son's last minutes from Bervine and Transit Police Sgt. Christopher Hannigan, who heard the victim scream and saw the attack from a platform across the Market-Frankford Line tracks before rushing to the victim's aid.
"I don't know. There is no justice," Steve Conroy said. "Sean's gone. We want him back. That's not going to happen. We're going to go through this process and see where we end up."
He said he did not object to bail being set in the case.
"I don't know if sending these kids to jail is the answer or are we just sending them to finishing school . . . so they can do it better next time, get away next time."
"I hope this changes their life for the better," he said. "Our son's gone. That's all I know right now."