By Ralph Cipriano
PHILADELPHIA, PA — The cops pulled a man over last year for running a stop sign and discovered that he had a criminal record. John Kane had already allegedly shot two men to death. When the cops conducted a search, they found drugs and guns.
Kane was charged with a half-dozen crimes, including possession of firearms, a first-degree felony, and carrying firearms without a license, a third-degree felony, in addition to three drug charges. He was also charged with running a stop sign, a summary offense punishable with a fine.
Because of the criminal charges, Kane was looking at a return to the slammer for violating the terms of probation from his most recent murder rap. But on May 20, when his case came to Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, something strange happened.
Because of a $25 traffic ticket from the Traffic Division of Philadelphia Municipal Court dating back to last year for running that stop sign, the D.A. decided to drop the guns and drugs charges against Kane in Common Pleas Court.
Why that happened involved conflicting messages being sent out by D.A. Larry Krasner over the issue of how to treat felons facing charges stemming from the same incident in two different courtrooms.
But that conflict didn’t change the bottom line in the Kane case, namely that thanks to a $25 traffic ticket, a two-time killer walked out of court a free man.
The rap sheet for Kane, 53, most recently of Southwest Philadelphia, is detailed in old police records.
At 10:03 p.m. on Dec. 26, 1989, the 23rd Police District in North Philadelphia responded to a call:
“hospital case/shooting, 1609 W. Stiles Street. Upon arrival, they observed the deceased sitting on the steps . . . with multiple gunshot wounds. The deceased was transported by Rescue 13-M where he was pronounced at 12:10 a.m. by Dr. Mehta.”
The dead man was David Ebron, a 30-year-old black man shot with a .22 revolver. At a 1991 trial Kane was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and possession of instruments of crime. The sentence on the manslaughter charge was a minimum of 60 months to a maximum of ten years.
After he got out of jail a decade later, Kane killed another man in the same neighborhood.
On approximately 7:11 p.m. on Oct. 19, 2001, police from the 23rd District in North Philly “responded to a radio call for a shooting and hospital case at 1600 Master Street. Upon arrival, officers found the victim Robert Williams, 33, a black male, lying on the highway and suffering from multiple gunshot wounds.
The victim was transported to Hahneman Hospital via fire rescue Unit 13 where he was subsequently pronounced dead of his injuries at 7:34 p.m. by Dr. Davenport.”
Dead was Robert Williams, 33, a black man shot in the chest with a .380 handgun.
“Investigation revealed that the victim was involved in a fight with another black male and that during the fight, the second male produced a handgun and shot the victim three times,” police records state.
Kane was found guilty in 2002 of murder, carrying unlicensed firearms and possession of an instrument of crime. The sentence on the murder rap was a prison term of 10 to 20 years.
Fast forward to Jan. 18, 2018. That’s the day that Kane, once again a free man, was pulled over at an undisclosed location in the city for running a stop sign, according to court records. After a search, the cops arrested the 5-foot-4, 195-pound Kane on six criminal charges, including:
— possession of firearms, a first-degree felony;
— carrying unlicensed firearms, a third-degree felony;
— use/possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor;
— carrying firearms in public, a misdemeanor;
— possession of a controlled substance, another misdemeanor;
— manufacture, delivery or possesion with intent to manufacture or deliver, a felony.
Bail was set at $500,000; three months later, it was lowered to $100,000.
But when Kane’s case came to trial in Common Pleas Court, there was a glitch. Kane had previously been tried in absentia on June 5, 2018 in the Traffic Division of Municipal Court and found guilty for running that stop sign.
On May 20, Kane was tried in Common Pleas Court in front of Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart, after a delay in the case had been granted just two weeks earlier. On May 6, at the request of the D.A.’s office, the judge had granted the delay for the purpose of “further investigation,” according to court records.
The defendant was represented by Austin Brunson of the public defender’s office. Assistant District Attorney James Lafferty was the prosecutor.
The D.A. then made a motion to drop the only three charges Kane faced in court that day: possession of a firearm and carrying an unlicensed firearm, both felonies, and use/possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor. According to court records, the decision to grant the Commonwealth motion to drop all three charges without prejudice was “based on Supreme Court decision on Commonwealth vs. Perfetto.”
Kane had come to trial less than a month after the state Supreme Court on April 26th, had issued an opinion in Commonwealth v. Perfetto, an opinion that dealt with Pennsylvania’s “compulsory joinder statute.” The law requires prosecutors to bring charges that arise from the same incident together in a single prosecution, to avoid double jeopardy. Because of the compulsory joinder statute, the D.A.’s office dropped the charges against Kane.
In Commonwealth v. Perfetto, police arrested Marc Perfetto in 2014 and charged him for driving without lights, a summary offense, as well as three counts of driving under the influence. Perfetto was convicted in the Traffic Division of Philadelphia Municipal Court for the summary traffic offense.
But when he went to Common Pleas Court on the DUI charges, Perfetto argued that the Commonwealth was prohibited from prosecuting him because of the compulsory joinder statute and the double jeopardy issue. The judge agreed and dismissed the DUI charges. It was a decision the state Supreme Court upheld when the case came up on appeal.
But besides Commonwealth v. Perfetto, the D.A.’s office knew there was another case active on appeal, Commonwealth V. Johnson, where the state Superior Court was reconsidering the use of the compulsory joinder statute as it applied to felony charges.
How did the D.A.’s office know about Commonwealth v. Johnson? Because just eight days after Kane got off scot free, the D.A.’s office submitted a May 28th brief in the Commonwealth v. Johnson case.
“Larry Krasner (Philadelphia’s ‘Defense Attorney Masquerading as a District Attorney’) and Jane Roh (Krasner’s ‘Spokesperson’) refuse to talk about the two-time killer they let walk”: https://t.co/e0u9ACXlT1 pic.twitter.com/GAHnKlWnbf
— SearchWarrant (@SearchWarrant1) December 8, 2019
In Commonwealth v. Johnson, police had stopped DeWitt Johnson in 2015 for carless driving and discovered he had been driving with a suspended license. The cops patted down Johnson and found four clear bags containing heroin.
The Commonwealth convicted Johnson in absentia for the summary offense of driving with a suspended license in the Traffic Division of Municipal Court.
Just like what happened with John Kane.
But when it came to the drug charges against Johnson, to be tried in Common Pleas Court, the defendant argued that the drug charges — possession with intent to deliver heroin and knowing/intentional possession of heroin — should be dismissed under the compulsory joinder rule. Because, Johnson contended, if he was tried in both Traffic Court and Common Pleas Court on charges that arose from the same incident, it would amount to double jeopardy.
On Oct. 26, however, the state Superior Court issued an opinion that said because Municipal Court lacked jurisdiction over the drug charges, “the Court of Common Pleas may properly assert its separate, original jurisdiction over” the drug charges.
In the Johnson case, the Superior Court drew a distinction with the Perfetto case, noting that Philadelphia Municipal Court had jurisdiction over all the offenses that Perfetto was charged with and could have tried Perfetto on all the offenses if it wanted to. But Johnson could not have been tried in the Traffic Division of Municipal Court on the felonies he was charged with.
Just like the circumstances in the John Kane case.
In their brief the D.A.’s office agreed with the state Superior Court’s eventual opinion, arguing that the Traffic Division of Philadelphia Municipal Court did not have jurisdiction over the heroin charges facing Johnson. So the D.A.’s office argued the heroin charges against Johnson should not have been dropped because the compulsory joinder law in that case did not apply to felonies.
Just like the circumstances in the Kane case.
The D.A.’s brief in Commonwealth v. Johnson was signed by Assistant D.A.s Daniel P Casullo III and Michael Erlich, in addition to Lawrence J. Goode, supervisor of the D.A.’s Appeals Unit; Carolyn Engel Temin, first assistant district attorney; and Lawrence S. Krasner, District Attorney of Philadelphia.
OK, so if that was the D.A.’s position, why then didn’t the D.A. go ahead and try Kane on the felony charges, and if they lost, simply appeal the case, knowing that the Superior Court was already mulling the Johnson case? Or could the D.A.’s office have tried to delay trying the Kane case until after the state Superior Court issued its opinion on Commonwealth v. Johnson?
We don’t have any answers because the D.A.’s office isn’t talking. As is typical when it comes to inquiries from Big Trial, Krasner and his alleged spokesperson, apparent mute Jane Roh, did not respond to requests for comment.
Roh and Krasner are probably hiding under their desks right now just hoping the firewall holds, and that nobody at the Inquirer starts asking questions about John Kane.
The other parties in this courtroom drama, with one exception, didn’t have much to contribute to this discussion.
A clerk in Judge Minehart’s office said she would talk to the judge, but both she and the judge did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Kane, no longer listed on the state inmate/parolee locater, could not be reached for comment, as he is apparently out enjoying his freedom.
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The public defender assigned to the case referred comment to his boss.
Alan J. Tauber, first assistant public defender, stated that in his opinion, if the Kane case went to trial, the D.A.’s office realized that under Commonwealth v. Perfetto, they were probably going to lose. So they simply followed the law as it existed at the time.
“Every citizen in the Commonwealth should be happy that we have a district attorney who follows the law,” Tauber said about Krasner.
Tauber was apparently reminding us that Philadelphia’s previous district attorney, R. Seth Williams, is presently sitting in a federal prison after confessing his guilt in a political corruption case on charges that included taking bribes, soliciting kickbacks, and stealing from his own mother.
Now there’s a low bar for Krasner to aspire to.
Former D.A. Lynne Abraham, however, had a different take. She wondered why, after the state Superior Court issued its opinion in Commonwealth v. Johnson, the D.A.’s office didn’t simply refile the criminal charges against Kane, put the two-time killer back in jail, and schedule a new trial.
“The office even now should immediately get this dangerous guy off the streets, and try him on the new charges and under the new law,” Abraham wrote in an email. “Tell me, what is the excuse for the inaction now???”
The ADA in the Kane case, James Lafferty, referred all comment to higher-ups in the D.A.’s office, who, of course, aren’t talking. Lafferty, an ADA in the D.A.’s juries unit, is a Temple Law School grad who has been employed by the D.A.’s office only since Nov. 6, 2017.
That’s another problem as far as Abraham is concerned. She couldn’t believe that such an inexperienced prosecutor was handling the Kane case.
“As for the ‘rookie’ assigned to this, OUTRAGEOUS!!!,” Abraham wrote. “This should have been run up the flagpole to everyone in authority, all he way up to the D.A. himself. If Krasner made the decision to discharge, it’s blood on him the next time Kane kills . . . I refuse to believe this rookie decided this on his own. Someone gave him marching orders. Period.”
Or was an unintentional screw-up in the D.A.’s office?
It could be argued that Krasner, a career defense lawyer and radical gadfly with a propensity for suing the police department, has never prosecuted a traffic stop before and has no clue what he’s doing.
The first thing Krasner did when he took over as D.A. was to fire 31 senior employees, which stripped the office its most experienced prosecutors and brain trust. Krasner’s current chief of staff isn’t even a lawyer, much less a prosecutor.
So maybe under Krasner, it’s simply amateur hour down at the D.A.’s office. But whether the inexperienced ADA assigned to the Kane case screwed up or did just what he was told, it doesn’t change the end result.
Thanks to Progressive Larry Krasner, a killer who carries guns and has already shot two men to death is loose again on the streets of Philadelphia.
And down at the D.A.’s office, apparently nobody cares enough to do anything about it.
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