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Former Phila. officer held on murder charge

After two witnesses described former Philadelphia Police Officer Rudolph Gary's gunning down his unarmed brother-in-law, a Municipal Court judge on Wednesday ordered him held on a first-degree murder charge.

After two witnesses described former Philadelphia Police Officer Rudolph Gary's gunning down his unarmed brother-in-law, a Municipal Court judge on Wednesday ordered him held on a first-degree murder charge.

The ruling inspired a rousing round of applause from family members packing the courtroom, many wearing shirts memorializing the victim, Howard Williams.

Both witnesses at Wednesday's preliminary hearing were hit by stray gunfire after Gary opened fire on a South Philadelphia street this month, they said.

Gary, they said, was trying to break up a fight involving his girlfriend when he went to his truck and returned with a gun, which prosecutors later identified as his semiautomatic service weapon.

"Everyone told him to 'Put the gun down, there's kids out here,' " said James Felder, one of the witnesses and a friend of Williams'. "He screamed he didn't care."

Felder said Gary never identified himself as a police officer. He said Gary pointed the gun "at everybody . . . making everybody get back."

"Howard said, 'That's the second time you pulled a gun on me,' " Felder testified. Gary fired the first shot into Williams' chest.

"You could see he was done," Felder said. "The second shot dropped him."

Felder said Gary fired several more times as Williams lay on the sidewalk. An autopsy found that Williams, 22, was hit twice in the chest and once in the neck.

Gary's attorney, Fortunato Perri Jr., said the shooting happened as Gary and Williams were fighting over the gun. He said Gary had his weapon on him, not stashed in the truck.

During his cross-examinations, Perri asked Felder, "Did Howard ever have his hand on that gun? Didn't the two of them struggle over that gun?"

Felder, who was grazed in the leg by a stray bullet, said that was not true.

Perri said after the hearing that Gary's family was "confident that when this case sees the light of day, he'll be exonerated."

The shooting happened in front of the Williams family home, in the 1800 block of Hoffman Street. Gary had gone there to pick up his son from his estranged wife, Shanae Williams.

Indira Johnson, whose sister lives nearby, said "the whole block" was engaged in a water fight with rainbow colored Super Soakers on a hot, sunny day.

When Gary pulled up to the house, his girlfriend was splashed with water. She jumped out of Gary's truck and confronted one of Williams' nieces, said Johnson, who testified Wednesday.

The women began fighting, and family and friends tried separating them.

Perri suggested that Johnson and her sister joined in the fight against Gary's girlfriend, Amber Colon. Johnson said that wasn't true.

"What did you do?" Perri asked. "Just stand and watch?"

"Yep," she said.

Perri said after the hearing that Colon was being pummeled and that Gary was trying to protect her.

Johnson, who hobbled to the witness stand on crutches, said she was standing next to Williams when Gary fired. She was shot in a leg.

Johnson and Felder both testified that no one else joined in the fight with Colon. They also agreed that Williams and Gary did not get into a physical altercation before the shooting.

Perri also represents former Philadelphia Officer Frank Tepper, who shot a neighborhood man after a street brawl outside his Port Richmond home in November. Tepper faces a murder charge in the death of William Panas Jr.

Perri argued at Tepper's preliminary hearing in February that the off-duty officer was being assaulted and acted in self-defense.

Both Tepper and Gary have been fired.

Gary, 26, had been an officer for less than a year, assigned to the 26th District, which includes parts of Northern Liberties, Fishtown, and North Philadelphia.

After he became a police officer, Gary was involved in two other confrontations involving his girlfriend.

In October, Shanae Williams and Colon squared off, and Gary slammed his estranged wife into the steps outside her home, according to the Williams family. Howard Williams went to confront Gary and Gary pulled his gun and badge, the family said.

Internal Affairs also investigated an incident after Colon's ex-boyfriend accused her of attacking him. He said Gary threatened him and did nothing to stop the assault.

Gary denied making any threats and was exonerated, according to an Internal Affairs memo.