- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Two men were found guilty yesterday of fatally shooting a 10-year-old boy outside his elementary school, a case that had bedeviled authorities for months because witnesses were reluctant to come forward.

Kennell Spady, 21, and Kareem Johnson, 22, were convicted of first-degree murder for their roles in a gunfight that caught Faheem Thomas-Childs in the crossfire as he walked to school on Feb. 11, 2004.

The defense had argued that the men, engaged in an argument with rival drug dealers, acted in self-defense when they fired.

But Common Pleas Judge Jane Cutler Greenspan said the evidence told a different story. She also said the number of shots fired and the weapons carried by Johnson and Spady — including a carbine and an assault weapon — proved they had intent to kill.

Judge Greenspan said she would sentence the men to life without parole at a formal sentencing hearing April 28. Defense attorneys said they would appeal on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

The nonjury trial over the past several weeks had been a nightmare for prosecutors, with at least eight witnesses recanting their statements to police. One was Taniesha Wiggins, 18, who prosecutors say went voluntarily to police two days after the shooting and gave sworn, videotaped statements. But on the stand, she refused to verify what she said.

“You can’t make me say nothing I don’t want to say,” she testified.

The case was seen as a textbook example of the code of silence that permeates many violent neighborhoods, with residents fearful of being seen as “snitches” and suffering retaliation.

“Because it involves a 10-year-old child murdered on his way to school, you would have thought there would have been a moral imperative to come forward,” Assistant District Attorney Mark Gilson said after the verdict.

According to prosecutors, Johnson and Spady were waiting with heavy artillery as brothers from a warring group dropped off their children at TM Peirce Elementary School in North Philadelphia. Dozens of children and adults were nearby.

More than 90 bullets were fired. Somehow, the bullets missed everyone except Faheem and a crossing guard, who was shot in the foot. Police were able to identify the child when they found an unsent Valentine’s Day card to his mother in his backpack.

Dozens of people saw the shooting, but few came forward despite authorities’ offer of a $100,000 reward and witness protection.

Defense attorneys didn’t fare well, either — two of their witnesses equivocated on Tuesday.

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