Update Dec. 23: Defense attorney Davis will not be removed from the case, a Philadelphia judge decided in setting a hearing on the DAO’s motion described here.
Tensions are flaring again between Philadelphia rank-and-file police and the city’s insurgent district attorney, who rode to office on a reformist platform that promised more officer accountability.
District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office filed a motion Thursday alleging that two Philadelphia homicide detectives obtained key evidence in a murder case by searching the suspect’s cell phone prior to obtaining a warrant, and then lied about it under oath.
But Krasner, a former defense attorney himself, claims the defendant’s counsel is also at fault.
The motion alleges that attorney William Davis, whose firm also happens to represent PPD officers being prosecuted by Krasner, suggested to bury the evidence to avoid blemishing the detectives’ reputation while requesting a plea deal for the accused murderer.
Confused? Hang tight. Despite this alleged malpractice, Krasner’s office still argues the defendant is guilty. And now, the newly filed motion threatens to jeopardize proceedings toward a murder conviction at a time when the police department’s homicide clearance rate has declined.
At center in the filing is a request to dismiss Davis, a trial lawyer at McMonagle, Perri, McHugh & Mischak, a prominent defense firm that is on retainer with the police union — the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 — and often represents city officers accused of criminal misconduct. Central to the DA’s argument to Court of Common Pleas Judge Barbara McDermott is that Davis’ recent actions show a conflict of interest.
The firm currently represents officers against whom Krasner has lodged criminal charges — including the high-profile murder case against ex-officer Ryan Pownall. The firm also provided counsel to two officers in a recently dismissed “stop and frisk” case, among other cases that have garnered national attention for the freshman prosecutor.
The drama at hand hinges on a homicide — one of more than 330 in the city this year — that barely made a blip on the radar when it happened in Southwest Philadelphia last winter.
Victim and alleged killer end up in same trauma bay
Set to face trial in May, Marquise Noel, 21, stands accused of shooting and killing 23-year-old Tafari Lawrence in Southwest Philadelphia in February. But the DA’s office claims it that key evidence in its own case against Noel — text messages from the defendant’s black LG flip-phone — may have been obtained illegally.
On Feb. 11, Detectives Freddie Mole and Joseph Murray were in Penn Presbyterian hospital’s trauma bay investigating the deceased. At the same time, Noel was admitted with a gunshot wound he claimed to have received during a robbery in a different section of the city, the DAO filing reads. Upon learning no such robbery occurred, the filing continues, the two detectives began to search Noel’s phone.
“Detective Mole raises the cell phone to show it to Detective Murray and the third man, and the third man gives Detective Mole the ‘thumbs up’ sign,” the filing reads.
It remains unclear from the court filing and the screenshots of the video published in the court filing what exactly the officers’ saw in the defendants’ phone. Murray filed for search warrant that afternoon. Later, investigators claimed to have found text messages that emerged as evidence linking Noel to the scene of the fatal shooting.
“Once I had a warrant, I had a chance to look in the phone and there was a conversation pertaining to the actual shooting at 75th and Elmwood,” Mole testified under oath Noel’s preliminary hearing in April, according to court records.
Pressed by a reporter, DAO officials said they did not interview the two detectives about discrepancies between the video surveillance and their sworn testimonies.
‘I don’t want to end anyone’s career’
Defense attorney Davis, who did not return a request for comment Thursday afternoon, reportedly obtained surveillance footage from the trauma bay. He then contacted the DA’s homicide unit chief, Anthony Voci, on Wednesday to discuss a possible plea deal, the motion says.
Davis, a former city prosecutor himself, told Voci he possessed “irrefutable evidence that Detective Freddie Mole… had lied under oath about his search of the cell phone,” per Krasner’s filing, and asked whether the office would be amenable to a “mitigated” plea deal for Noel. Should they work out an arrangement, the defense attorney suggested, there would be no need video of officers would not be made public.
“I’ve known you a long time, and you know me from when I worked in the office. I don’t want to end anyone’s career,” William Davis reportedly told the Voci, according to the filing.
Court records show Murray arrested Noel three days later on Feb. 14. He was stands charged with homicide, conspiracy and various firearms offenses.
Krasner’s office told Billy Penn it still believes Noel is guilty. The DA’s office is asking Judge Barbara McDermott to postpone the defense’s motion hearing, arguing that the new activities have threatened a straightforward conviction.
Sources in the police department said Murray and Mole have been benched from their regular duties. A spokesperson for the department said the officers remain assigned to the homicide unit.