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Jury hears what led to subway slaying

The path leading to last year's subway beating and death of Sean Patrick Conroy began hours earlier and five miles away - in a card game at Simon Gratz High School where the winner was accused of cheating and his winnings were thrown at him.

The path leading to last year's subway beating and death of Sean Patrick Conroy began hours earlier and five miles away - in a card game at Simon Gratz High School where the winner was accused of cheating and his winnings were thrown at him.

The banal chain of events was described to a Philadelphia jury yesterday by Rasheem Bell, 17, one of the five teenagers arrested and charged with murder in the March 26, 2008, assault on Conroy, 36, who died from a stress-induced asthma attack.

"Someone's scared to hit somebody," Tim Rhodes had taunted Kinta Stanton, 17, the disrespected card-game winner, according to Bell.

Bell has pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and conspiracy charges. He testified during the first day of the trial of Stanton and two others - Nashir Fisher, 17, and Ameer Best, 18 - in the death of Conroy, a Starbucks store manager in Center City.

Bell is to undergo questioning by the three defense attorneys when the trial resumes this morning - after judge, jury, lawyers and the three defendants take a brief field trip to view the crime scene: the 13th Street concourse of the Market-Frankford Line under City Hall.

Bell, questioned by Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Juliano Coelho, described how he, the three defendants, and Arthur Alston, 18 - Alston also pleaded guilty - left Gratz around lunch time and took the Broad Street Subway to the Gallery at Market East.

Bell said the five hung out at the Gallery for about three hours before they ran into his friend Rhodes at a McDonald's restaurant in Center City. Hearing about the card game, Bell said Rhodes - who was not arrested - taunted Stanton and issued what Bell said they interpreted as a dare.

"I said, 'I'm not hitting first,' " Bell testified, adding that Best concurred.

"I'm not scared to hit somebody," said Alston, and Stanton agreed, according to Bell.

Bell said the group then went to the concourse, using the stairs on the southeast side of City Hall. As they neared the bottom of the stairs, Bell said, they spotted a man - Conroy - walking south in the concourse and fell in behind him.

Alston came up behind Conroy and punched him in the head, and the others joined in, Bell said, with Best and Fisher kicking Conroy after he was on the ground.

"There's the cops!" yelled Rhodes, according to Bell, and he saw a SEPTA officer approaching on a motorized cart. Bell said he and Rhodes turned and fled, and the four others ran past the officer in the opposite direction.

The jury also heard from the officer, Omari Bervine, who pursued and apprehended Stanton, and from SEPTA Police Sgt. Christopher Hannigan.

Hannigan testified about how he was on the eastbound platform waiting for a train when he heard a screaming shout and saw a group of teens surrounding and beating a man.

Hannigan said that he made his way to the westbound concourse but that the teens had already fled. Conroy was on his knees, Hannigan said, and struggling to get to his feet. Conroy's eyes were wide and staring, but he was gasping for air and could not speak.

Seconds later, Hannigan said, Conroy became unconscious and never recovered. He died shortly after 3 p.m. at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

Both police identified Best as the "taller one" - well over six feet - who hit Conroy, and Bervine said Best uttered an expletive when he spotted him approaching.

Earlier in the day, in opening statements, Coelho told the jury the three teenagers demonstrated a "malicious disregard for the value of human life" when they randomly selected Conroy as the victim to settle Rhodes' dare.

"You can't walk away when the game goes bad. . . . You can't say, 'I wasn't down with that,' " Coelho said.

The defense attorneys tried to separate their client from the other two or, in one case, to shift the blame to them.

Lee Mandel told the jury that Fisher accompanied the other Gratz students that day but was "merely present."

Mandel said Fisher's statement to police will show that "he happened to be there but that he did not participate in the assault on Mr. Conroy. He did not strike a blow."

Best's attorney, Richard Brown, asked the jury to keep an open mind because the evidence will show that the blows Conroy sustained did not kill him.

Brown said the medical evidence raises the question "whether Mr. Conroy was even aware he had asthma."

Lonny Fish, the lawyer for Stanton, argued that his client was mistakenly identified as one of the assailants.

Fish said he believes the evidence will prove that the four people who assaulted Conroy were Alston, Bell, Best and Rhodes.