Since 2008, Carmen Medina's family dominated the sale of heroin and other drugs at Somerset and Swanson Streets in Kensington.
It was a lucrative operation that authorities said moved more than 100 packets a day of prepackaged heroin under the "Nite Life" brand.
But by early this year, the Medina family business was in trouble. Carmen's older brother, Edwin "June" Medina Jr., and four associates had been busted and charged in a federal drug conspiracy. Competitors, sensing a vacuum, were moving in on the family's turf, and Carmen Medina decided to make a stand.
That decision, according to testimony in a Philadelphia courtroom Tuesday, cost her and her boyfriend their lives, when Alfred Whitefield allegedly chose an alternative to paying Medina's $500-a-week "corner rental" to continue doing business on Swanson Street.
Municipal Court Judge Felice Rowley Stack ordered Whitefield, 42, to stand trial on two counts of murder in the April 23 shootings of Medina, 31, and Thomas Gorman, 39, during a late-night meeting in the 200 block of East Gurney Street. The couple and her 11-year-old son, Joseph, were in her gray Jeep when a gunman fired up to 10 rounds at closed range.
The preliminary hearing revealed information about the shootings through tense, often emotional testimony by Medina's sister-in-law, Yvette Davila, and Alexandra Krochak, who accompanied Whitefield that night.
At the time, police said Gorman was killed when he threw himself over the boy.
Davila, however, testified that Medina was shot dead as she stood outside the front passenger door, talking to the gunman. Gorman died in the driver's seat.
"I saw two flashes from sparks," Davila said. "At the first three shots, I grabbed Joseph and said, 'You're going to stay down.' "
When the gunfire stopped, Davila said, the boy jumped out of the car, and she looked up and saw the gunman was gone.
Questioned by Assistant District Attorney Carlos Vega, Davila said Medina had a prior confrontation with Whitefield. Two or three days earlier, Davila said, Medina pointed out Whitefield on the street as the man who "shot up my car" and was trying to sell drugs on Swanson.
The night of the shooting, Davila said, Medina told her she would collect Whitefield's $500 corner rental and snapped at her to pay attention to what Whitefield looked like.
Krochak described the shooting from her viewpoint on the opposite side of Gurney Street. Krochak testified that her boyfriend had called her the day before and asked her to accompany Whitefield, whom she did not know, to the meeting that night.
"He was talking to a female," Krochak testified, referring to Whitefield and Medina, "and then there were shots fired, maybe six or seven. He leaped from the side of the SUV and began running."
Krochak said they met down the block, where Whitefield told her to get into a car and drove off. She said they stopped at a bar at 13th and Somerset Streets for a drink and were met by another driver, who took them to a house in a neighborhood she did not recognize.
Krochak testified that she stayed with Whitefield for four days, until he disappeared and she fled. Once during that time, she said, they saw a television news report about the killings, and Whitefield told her, "I didn't mean for that to happen. It was either me or them."
Defense attorney David M. Walker questioned Krochak at length about why she accompanied Whitefield and stayed with him.
"I didn't feel that I had a choice," she replied.
"I have three children, girls, and a granddaughter that I love," she said, "and want to protect from the streets."