Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak T. Goldstein, Esquire recently obtained the complete dismissal of first degree murder charges in the case of Commonwealth v. D.R..
In D.R., prosecutors alleged that the decedent, who was wheelchair bound, was returning home just before midnight. The decedent’s friend happened to be driving by, and he stopped to help the decedent get into the house. As the friend was helping the decedent up into the house, two men approached, pulled out guns, and began walking quickly towards the decedent. The decedent managed to get into the house and close the door, but one of the men kicked the door open and fatally shot the decedent. The decedent’s friend began to run, and the men began firing in his direction, striking him one time in the leg. The friend survived his injuries. The two men then fled the scene. Prosecutors eventually arrested and charged D.R. with first degree murder for the killing of the decedent and Attempted Murder for the shooting of the decedent’s friend.
Fortunately, D.R. quickly retained Attorney Goldstein, and Attorney Goldstein began investigating the case. It was clear that there was something strange about the case right away. First, D.R. had no motive to kill the decedent or even ties to that particular neighborhood in Philadelphia. Second, two witnesses had apparently identified D.R. as the killer in police-administered photo arrays, but those photo arrays were not conducted until months after the murder when police supposedly received an anonymous tip identifying D.R. as the shooter. Third, police had not uncovered any other evidence beyond these unusually-delayed witness identifications which would connect D.R. to the homicide.
The first step in most Pennsylvania state court cases, including homicides, is a preliminary hearing. Attorney Goldstein was successfully able to move for a lineup with respect to one of the eyewitnesses – the decedent’s friend who had been shot and survived. When considering whether to grant a lineup, the court should consider the witness’s opportunity to observe, whether the witness knew or had seen the defendant before, and the overall strength of the case and whether there is other corroborating evidence against the defendant. In this case, the surviving victim had never seen D.R. before, had not had a great opportunity to observe the shooters, and had not made an identification for months. There was also no other evidence against D.R. other than the two eyewitness identifications. Accordingly, the Municipal Court granted the motion for a lineup with respect to the surviving victim, but the court denied it with respect to the other alleged eyewitness because he claimed that he had previously seen D.R. in the neighborhood.
When Attorney Goldstein and D.R. attended the lineup, the surviving victim told detectives that he recognized D.R. as the person he had identified in the photo array, but after seeing him in person, he believed that he was not the person who killed his friend. He testified similarly at the preliminary hearing. On cross-examination by Attorney Goldstein, he admitted that detectives had suggested that he identify D.R. and that he had gone along with it because detectives assured him that they had lots of other evidence and D.R.’s eyes looked similar to the eyes of the shooter. However, the other eyewitness, one of the decedent’s neighbors from across the street, testified that he had seen D.R. in the neighborhood in the days before the shooting, that he had witnessed the shooting itself, and that he recognized D.R. as the shooter. Therefore, the case was held for court based on the one witness’s in-court identification, and the court subsequently scheduled the matter for trial.
Attorney Goldstein, believing in his client’s innocence, continued investigating the case. He was eventually able to obtain phone records, including cell site location data, which showed that it was unlikely that D.R. had ever been in the neighborhood of the shooting and that D.R. was probably too far away to have committed the murder on the night in question. Attorney Goldstein’s private investigator also spoke with the neighbor/purported eyewitness from across the street. That witness eventually recanted his statement and admitted that he had not really gotten a good look at the shooter. Like the surviving victim who attended the lineup, that witness also admitted that police detectives had also told him that he should identify D.R. when they conducted the photo array.
Attorney Goldstein immediately provided prosecutors with the witness’s statement admitting that he had not told the truth about D.R. being the shooter. Now that both witnesses gave statements indicating that detectives had told them who to identify and faced with cell phone data showing that D.R. was probably too far away to have committed the murder, the Commonwealth asked D.R. to submit to a lie detector test. D.R. agreed and took the test. Following the completion of the test, prosecutors agreed to withdraw all charges, and D.R. was immediately released. Instead of facing life without parole on First Degree Murder charges, D.R. is now home with his family and enjoying his freedom. This case illustrates the importance of making strategic pre-trial motions such as a motion for a lineup, thoroughly cross-examining Commonwealth witnesses, and fully investigating a case prior to trial. By doing these three things, Attorney Goldstein was able to win freedom for D.R.
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