A victim's dying declaration helps convict killer
Living in the Point Breeze section of South Philadelphia, Allen Moment Jr. understood no-snitch culture. Moment stayed true to the code, even after Jan. 20, 2006, when he was ambushed outside his house on Pierce Street, near 22d, shot a dozen times, and left for dead in his girlfriend's arms.
Living in the Point Breeze section of South Philadelphia, Allen Moment Jr. understood no-snitch culture.
Moment stayed true to the code, even after Jan. 20, 2006, when he was ambushed outside his house on Pierce Street, near 22d, shot a dozen times, and left for dead in his girlfriend's arms.
Two years later, Moment was still alive and still at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. A month in a coma, multiple operations to repair his riddled bowels, and one infection after another had atrophied his muscles. He was a quadriplegic.
Moment lingered until Aug. 6, 2008, when he died of a final drug-resistant infection at age 24. But before he died, Moment finally told his mother and uncle - and police detectives - who had shot him: his cousin Marvin Flamer, now 37; Flamer's nephew Nafeas Flamer, 23; and Nafeas Flamer's friend Hakim Bond, 23.
Moment made a dying declaration, a brief video recording in which he reiterated his identification of the Flamers and Bond. Under law, a jury may presume such declarations are true. Last week, almost four years later, Moment's statement from the grave became a crucial piece of evidence at Bond's trial in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.
Allen Moment lived in an area of South Philadelphia known for corner gangs that settled disputes with guns.
According to Assistant District Attorney Richard Sax, Moment had a problem. He knew and was friends with people from his corner. But the Flamers - his father's extended family - lived near 24th and Ellsworth.
There was bad blood between young men from the two corners, and in early 2006, the fever was up.
Torn between the two groups, Moment tried to play peacemaker. At one point, Sax said during the trial last week, Moment took a gun from Nafeas Flamer. Then someone shot at Flamer and word was that Flamer suspected Moment had "set him up."
Moment sold drugs - court records show he was sentenced to two nine- to 23-month prison terms in 2003 - and on Jan. 20, 2006, he was outside his house when his girlfriend, Aisha Williams, asked him to get crack cocaine for her mother.
According to Williams' trial testimony, Moment said he would deliver the crack to her house, and she turned and began walking away.
"I got to the corner and heard shots, and I thought, he's shooting at somebody or getting shot," Williams said.
Williams said she turned and saw Moment staggering toward her: "I said, 'I thought you got hit.' He said, 'I did. Don't leave me, I don't want to die.' "
Williams did not die, but neither did he get well.
And he would not tell anyone who shot him. He knew, as Sax said, that "Snitches get way more than stitches."
Moment's dying declaration was recorded Feb. 14, 2008. Though he lived almost six months more, Moment had already received the grim news from HUP surgeon Carrie Sims. He was dying, Sims said. An infection resistant to all drugs could not be stopped.
The video shows Moment propped up in bed, a large tube attached to his nose. He barely opens his eyes. He nods or blinks as a detective shows photos and asks him to confirm his identifications. Only once does he struggle to rasp aloud a reply.
It wasn't much - maybe three minutes - but Sax needed all the evidence he could get because the intimidation and threats did not end when Moment died.
Two years later, shortly before the start of the trial of the Flamers and Bond, Abdul Taylor was killed.
Taylor, 32, a former high school basketball star and popular Kingsessing recreation center coach, came on the scene right after Moment was gunned down.
He did not see the shooters, but Taylor knew many young men from the basketball courts. He kept his ears open and learned enough to become a key witness against Moment's killers.
On May 6, 2010, Taylor went to a corner store for his mother and was shot dead in front of his house at 23d and Ellsworth Streets.
DNA evidence led to 21-year-old Derrick White, who was charged with killing Taylor to keep him from testifying. Sax prosecuted, and on Feb. 29, a jury convicted White of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death.
The trial for the three men was postponed, but Taylor's death caused a legal dispute about whether his statement could be used. A judge ruled that Bond should be tried separately from the Flamers, a jury was selected, and Bond's trial began Tuesday.
Sax's key live witness was Moment's girlfriend.
Williams, now 34, identified the Flamers and Bond in statements to detectives after the shooting. But by Tuesday, when she took the witness stand, Williams had long since "gone south" - recanted the identifications and blamed detectives for creating the statements.
"Because you people don't let me alone!" Williams replied when Sax asked her why she had signed her initial statements to detectives as well as photographs of the three shooters she identified.
"A friend of mine is dead," Williams said. "If I could help you, I would, but I didn't see nothing."
Defense attorney Michael Coard argued that fear of retaliation had nothing to do with the case against Bond.
Coard called Moment's dying declaration the product of a man who went through two years of physical and emotional agony and was so medicated he was vulnerable to detectives' suggestions about his shooters' identities.
Coard reminded the jury that the video of Moment's statement shows him nodding yes or no to questions from detectives, not making statements: "Did he say it? Did he say what the commonwealth claims he said? Was it he himself who said it?"
Sax cited testimony of Moment's mother and uncle, a Philadelphia sheriff's deputy, who were present and corroborated Moment's statements before and during the video. And he noted Sims' testimony that, despite his dire medical condition, Moment was lucid.
In his closing, Sax challenged jurors to put themselves in Moment's shoes: "These are [my] peeps. If they would execute me for being a peacemaker . . . what would they have to be concerned with if I were to give them up for this?
"He lived a long time after he was shot, and he told us when he was ready," Sax said. "Don't hold that against him."
On Friday, the jury of seven men and five women found Bond guilty of first-degree murder. Judge Lillian H. Ransom immediately sentenced him to the mandatory life in prison without parole.
Sax said the verdict showed that the jury saw the truth - fear - through Williams' profane bravado on the stand.
"I think the jury understood," Sax said. "You live in the neighborhood, and soon enough everyone will know what you did. They recognized that and I think accepted the testimony."
That doesn't mean it will be any easier for Sax next time. Though a pretrial appeal is pending before state Superior Court, Marvin and Nafeas Flamer still face trial.
"Regardless of the court's ruling, we do intend to try them," Sax said.