Friend: Forced to dump body A Chester man testified in the trial of Stephen Poaches, accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend.

Posted: October 14, 2006

At the murder trial of Stephen Poaches, a former friend testified tearfully yesterday that he helped the Philadelphia man dump the body of La'Toyia Figueroa, 24, who was five months' pregnant, in a weed-filled lot in Chester.

The body of Figueroa, a waitress who did some modeling, was found in the lot at Fourth and Palmer Streets on Aug. 20, 2005, about a month after she went missing.

The discovery of her body ended a monthlong search that attracted dozens of volunteers and prompted a national debate on the lack of public attention given to minority women who go missing.

Poaches, 27, of the 5800 block of Walton Avenue in West Philadelphia, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder because Figueroa, the mother of a 7-year-old girl, was pregnant. Poaches was the baby's father. He faces the death penalty if convicted of the charges in the nonjury trial.

Figueroa was last seen at 59th Street and Walton Avenue near Poaches' apartment on July 18, according to police. He was arrested shortly after midnight on Aug. 20 while trying to move her body from the lot. Police said Poaches was wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a .45-caliber handgun.

Under questioning by assistant district attorney Carlos Vega, Javar Alston, 28, testified that Poaches, armed with a handgun, drove to pick him up at Alston's home in Chester in the early morning hours of July 19 and ordered Alston to help remove the body from the trunk of Poaches' 1990s vintage green Ford and dump it in the lot.

Alston said Poaches, who worked as driver of a heating-oil truck, held a gun in his hand while they were driving in Chester and that he threatened to kill him. Alston faces no charges in the crime.

During the hearing before Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, Alston said Poaches pulled Figueroa's body "out of the trunk, and it fell on the ground." He said Poaches then dragged Figueroa by the legs into the lot.

Her body was in a large bag in the trunk, Alston said, and that although he could not see her face, he could see that the woman was naked and her arms had been taped together.

Alston said he got back in the car with Poaches but that he later fled from the vehicle.

"I jumped out of the car and ran" to Fifth and Penn Streets [in Chester]," Alston said.

He said Poaches called him later and asked, " 'What's up with you?' " Alston said. "I told him he needed to get God and repent."

Alston said Poaches told him, " 'You know what happens to snitches.' "

Asked by defense attorney Michael Coard why he did not call police to get Poaches off the street, Alston said, "He was going to kill me." Alston said he was afraid of Poaches, with whom he had been friends since 2000.

"He just killed a woman who was pregnant," Alston said. "I was scared."

Earlier in the hearing, FBI special agent William B. Shute testified that in the 10 days after Figueroa was reported missing 972 calls were made on Poaches' cell phone and that several of the calls were to Alston's phone.

Figueroa's father, Melvin Figueroa, who rallied community support during the search for his missing daughter, was accompanied at the hearing by about 20 relatives and friends.

Melvin Figueroa said he walked out of the courtroom during Alston's testimony.

"I walked out not because of anger, it's just knowing my daughter's body was dropped on the floor and dragged. It's hard to take."

Testimony is scheduled to resume on Monday.

Contact staff writer Vernon Clark at 215-854-5717 or vclark@phillynews.com.

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