Crack house operator testifies about slaying of drug dealer

Posted: September 09, 2005

The operator of a Coatesville crack house told a Chester County Court jury yesterday that on April 15, 2004, he summoned a drug dealer to his residence, where the man was fatally shot a short time later.

Testifying under immunity, Rodney McNeil, 49, said he called Joel Taylor, whom he knew as "S", and told him he had the money he owed him. McNeil said that comment was a code that meant he wanted to purchase crack cocaine.

McNeil's testimony came on the fourth day of the capital murder trial of Sabin Suber, 51, of Coatesville. Police say Suber conspired with Demetrius Fiorentino, 31, of Coatesville, to rob, beat, and kill Taylor, 19, of Queens, N.Y.

Under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Lorraine B. Finnegan, McNeil gave this account:

He said he was not interested in more "company" the morning of the homicide because four people were already there. He said his role as a crack-house operator was to give people a place to use drugs that he obtained for them.

Suber and Fiorentino "barged their way" into his home, he said, and one of his visitors, 22-year-old Carmen Rae Hughes, said she wanted to talk to them. McNeil said he went to a pay phone to call Taylor, who later arrived at the house in the 900 block of Lumber Street.

McNeil said he tried to discourage Taylor from entering the residence, but Taylor headed for the kitchen, where Suber, Fiorentino, and Hughes were. McNeil said he went upstairs to deliver cocaine to Robert Wilson and Charles Jennings Jr.

McNeil said he came running downstairs after he "heard scuffling" and said Suber "pulled something silver, shiny and put it against my chest," telling me to let his friend take care of his business in the kitchen. He said he saw Taylor "really fearing for his life."

McNeil said that when Suber turned around to look in the kitchen, McNeil ran outside and tried to find a phone. A short time later, Hughes ran across the street screaming: "Rodney, they're trying to rob 'S.'" McNeil said he then heard "bang, bang, bang."

He said he did not go back to the house until he was sure Suber and Fiorentino, whom he had seen on the street after the shots, were gone. He said he found Taylor lying on the floor.

"You might as well just take me to the cemetery; it's over for me," McNeil said Taylor told him.

McNeil said he got Taylor to the front porch where neighbors, two of whom had called 911, offered assistance. McNeil said he was nervous and went back inside and started "cleaning up."

McNeil said he initially told police he had been asleep and heard nothing because he was scared.

"I feared for my life," he said. "I just carried 'S' out, and I saw the guys get away."

Defense attorney Christian J. Hoey questioned McNeil's credibility, pointing out that he had avoided prosecution on multiple charges in exchange for his cooperation. Hoey also cited differences between McNeil's testimony and that of other prosecution witnesses.

The trial in front of Judge Phyllis R. Streitel, which is expected to last two weeks, is scheduled to resume today.

Contact staff writer Kathleen Brady Shea at 610-701-7625 or kbrady@phillynews.com.

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