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Tangled trail of collapsed cases and shattered lives

After repeated arrests, Omar Cash did little time. Now he’s charged with murder.

A rape case against Omar Cash died when the victim didn't show up for trial. An attempted-murder case against him failed when the victim hanged himself. A robbery case fell apart when the victim, wanted on a drug charge, became a fugitive. Each time Cash escaped conviction, prosecutors say, the experience emboldened him, and his violent behavior escalated.

Cash, 27, now stands accused of rape, kidnapping, and two murders.

"He's someone who has been through the criminal justice system every which way for every serious crime there is, and the result has not been state prison," said Mark Walz, an assistant district attorney in Bucks County, where Cash now faces a trial on a charge of capital murder. "He's the poster child for this type of thing."

In just three weeks last year, police say, Cash went on a rampage.

In April of last year, they say, he killed a man in a brazen daylight shooting outside a car wash in Frankford. Police say Cash shot Muliek Brown, 19, as he knelt to shine the hubcaps on his green Mercury Marquis. The car wash's security system videotaped the killing as the manager looked on in horror. "He shot him in the head and took off running," said the manager, Robert Green.

The scene haunts him still. "You want to see a guy get his head blown off?" asked Green as he stood outside the car wash a few months later. "I try to get it out of my head every day." Three weeks later, police say, Cash abducted a couple at gunpoint outside a lower Northeast Philadelphia nightclub.

According to police, the crime unfolded this way:

Cash forced Edgar Rosas-Gutierrez to drive while he repeatedly raped his girlfriend and ordered her to perform oral sex. Eventually, he told Rosas-Gutierrez to pull over on Route 1 North in Bensalem and get out of the car.

"I heard a gunshot," the woman later told detectives. "When he came back, he had blood on his hands. I thought he was going to kill me." Cash had shot Rosas-Gutierrez to death and dumped his body on the side of the road.

He drove off with the woman, raped her again in a parking lot, and then forced her to accompany him to the Comfort Inn in Lawrenceville, N.J. There, he attacked her again until she escaped, ran screaming into the lobby, and jumped over the front desk as a startled night clerk dialed 911.

In an eerie echo of the car-wash killing, Cash was once again captured on video. A surveillance camera was recording as he entered the motel with the woman at his side around 5:30 a.m. As Cash checked in under a phony name, the video shows, he balked at the $119 price of a room and haggled with the desk clerk before agreeing to pay full price.

When the videotape was aired on local television, a woman recognized Cash and called police. He was arrested a few days later in New York, where he had fled in a stolen car. Prosecutors in Bucks County later charged Cash with the abduction and murder of Rosas-Gutierrez, a 32-year-old construction worker, and the rape and kidnapping of his companion, then 41, a Brazilian immigrant who works as a housekeeper. She declined to comment.

Cash has pleaded not guilty to both crimes. His lawyers declined to comment.

A long criminal history

Omar Sharif Cash's journey through the criminal justice system began at age 13, when he was arrested for robbery. At 14, he was picked up twice for stealing. At 16, he was arrested for carrying a gun. At 17, he was caught with drugs.

As an adult, court records show, Cash was arrested nearly a dozen times but never spent more than two years behind bars.

At 21, police said, Cash ended an argument with Jerome Gilbert, then 18, by pulling out a chrome revolver and shooting him in the chest and an arm. From his hospital bed, Gilbert named Cash as his shooter and picked his photo out of a group of mug shots.

When police went to arrest Cash two months later in early 2004, he pulled out a gun - and found himself facing firearms charges as well.

That same day, while awaiting a court hearing, Cash robbed another prisoner in the 25th Police District lockup in North Philadelphia.

Police say Cash stole $118 the man had stashed in a sock, then exposed himself and threatened to force the man to perform oral sex on him. He was charged with robbery, indecent exposure, and terroristic threats.

Of the three cases, only one stuck.

When Cash first went to court in the theft case, his cell mate was still in custody. But in a bureaucratic breakdown, officials failed to transport him from his cell to the courtroom to testify. Such "bring-down" problems have plagued the court system for years.

It was a critical mistake. By the next hearing, the man was out of jail and in the wind, a fugitive. Without his testimony, the case against Cash fell apart.

The attempted-murder case collapsed, too, after Gilbert, who was facing rape charges, hanged himself in prison.

Though Cash beat those two cases, he pleaded guilty to the firearms charges and was sentenced to 111/2 to 23 months in jail.

Cash was released in 2005. The next year, he was arrested again, this time on the rape charge.

Tyshira Patterson, 18, told police that Cash had attacked her in Southwest Philadelphia. She gave the newspaper permission to use her name.

At first, Patterson was an eager witness. In fact, she was instrumental in solving the crime.

After the attack, she spotted Cash, a rapper, on a flier for a concert and took it to police. Cash, who went by the stage name Cash Dollaz, rapped at local bars and appeared in a DVD called Philly Hoodstars.

In a scene from the DVD posted on YouTube, Cash rapped about using an AK-47.

"Slug spray out that 'K' one day and I hurt you," he says. "Don't take this to the D.A., I ain't saying I'll murd you."

After the arrest, Patterson's cooperation waned. She never went to court.

Patterson, now 22 and a nursing school student, recalled receiving only one subpoena to testify and acknowledged that she had skipped that hearing.

Prosecutors say they made exhaustive efforts to put her on the stand - subpoenaing her before each court date, calling her repeatedly, and even going so far as to obtain a bench warrant compelling her testimony.

In her absence, prosecutors had no choice but to drop the case, said Assistant District Attorney Angel Flores.

Patterson said she regretted that communication had broken down.

"He had a lot of charges, and he never got locked up," she said in an interview. "Nothing happened to him, so he knew he could keep doing it and keep doing it."

The next year, police arrested Cash twice on charges of dealing heroin, but couldn't make either case stick.

In the more serious drug case, police arrested Cash at 3 a.m. inside Temple University Hospital's emergency room. He went there because he had a seizure; hospital personnel found 168 packets of heroin on him.

The case was delayed twice because prosecutors weren't ready. On the third listing, prosecutors withdrew charges. The D.A.'s Office last week said it was unable to explain what had happened.

'He wasn't locked up'

Four months later, police say, Cash shot and killed Muliek Brown.

Brown's family believes Cash must have felt almost invincible after prevailing in court so many times.

"That's probably why he felt he could do the things he was doing, because he wasn't getting caught," said Brown's sister Nadia Gary, 29. "When he was caught, he wasn't locked up."

As Brown's relatives gathered in the living room of the family's home in Kensington, they described him as a disciplined young man who loved fixing up his Marquis and had been a top shooting guard at Frankford High.

He stocked shelves at Wal-Mart at night and was looking forward to the birth of his child. His daughter, Mazah, was born about a month after his death.

It's unclear why Brown was slain. Homicide detectives will say only that Cash killed him to settle a dispute.

The Philadelphia murder case is on hold, pending the outcome of Cash's murder and rape trial in Bucks County. That is to start next month.

Bucks prosecutors lamented that city courts had not stopped Cash years ago.

"When people are arrested multiple times for robbery, rape, and firearms, you expect that that person is going to be convicted," Walz said. "You don't expect that the person is going to be on the street with a gun, raping and murdering more people."