May 16

Commonwealth v. M.T.

Commonwealth v. M.T.

M.T. and his 16 year-old brother were arrested for Attempted Murder and related charges resulting from a shooting that occurred on the 1500 block of Gratz Street in Philadelphia. Two eyewitnesses gave statements implicating both individuals as the ones who fired 15 shots onto a crowded block, striking an 11 year-old boy in the process. Police claimed that the shooting was in retaliation for a fight that had occurred earlier in the day where M.T.’s brother was jumped by a group of men. To establish this motive, police relied on the statement given by the 11 year-old boy who indicated that the brother said “I’ll be back” after the assault, and a post on Twitter where the brother tweeted “War Ready”.

Defense investigation by Patrick R. Link, homicide lawyer in Philadelphia, PA, produced surveillance videos that contradicted many key points of the Commonwealth’s case. The first eyewitness in the case told police that he was parked on the block talking to a friend when he heard the shots and saw M.T. and his brother with guns. However, video of the block showed that witness driving his car down the block, trying to park his car when the shots were fired. His car never stopped, and there was a large minivan behind him obstructing his view. Furthermore, the way the witness had to swerve out of the parking spot made clear that he would have crashed had he actually looked behind him. This witness’ credibility was so torn apart by the video that the Commonwealth elected to not call him at the trial.

The second witness’ testimony was also contradicted by the video. He claimed that he was on the corner looking at the shooters for 20 seconds. While the video did not depict the shooters, it was clear that the witness only looked in that general direction for 2-3 seconds. Furthermore, the defense established motive for that witness to lie and identify the wrong people because he himself was initially cast as a suspect in the shooting, and his prior criminal record for crimes involving dishonesty was certainly relevant evidence regarding his character for being truthful. Also, it was this witness that the Commonwealth identified as the intended target of the shooting. However, surveillance video of the earlier fight showed that this witness was not even present, which called into question the motive asserted by the Commonwealth. Furthermore, crime scene photos indicated that two of the strike marks from the shots fired struck a tree in front of M.T.’s own house at the end of the block! Why would M.T. put his own family at risk for someone that had no involvement in the earlier fight, and with whom they had no other problems with? Who could be capable of such malice and utter disregard for the safety of all of the young children on the block?

The answer became clear when ballistics were run on the shell casings that were found at the scene. Several months after the shooting, after M.T. had been arrested, another individual was arrested in possession of one of the guns used in the shooting. This conclusion was made after police firearms experts determined that the grooves in the shell casings matched the gun. However, the detectives on M.T.’s case never did a follow-up investigation of the male found in possession of the gun. As it turned out, that man had been arrested on three other cases involving guns and shootings. Those cases occurred in the same district as some of the Commonwealth’s witness’ arrests for thefts and robberies. In closing arguments, the defense made a compelling argument that this individual and/or his associates were responsible for the shooting incident that wounded the 11 year-old boy.

The jury rendered a quick Not Guilty verdict on all charges.

A newspaper article on the verdict can be read here.

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