Hung jury forces life sentences in Sgt. Liczbinski's killing

Eric DeShann Floyd, left; Levon T. Warner. The judge ensured neither will leave prison alive.
Eric DeShann Floyd, left; Levon T. Warner. The judge ensured neither will leave prison alive. (Tony Fitts)
Posted: August 18, 2010

Two bank robbers convicted of first-degree murder in the 2008 shooting of Philadelphia Police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski avoided the death penalty Tuesday after a Common Pleas Court jury deadlocked on the execution of two men who did not pull the trigger.

The impasse in the jury of seven men and five women - a 10-2 split in favor of execution, the forewoman later said - was revealed about 3:30 p.m., after 13 hours of deliberations since Friday.

Under Pennsylvania law, the hung jury forced Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes to impose two life prison terms without chance of parole for Eric DeShann Floyd, 35, and Levon T. Warner, 41.

She tacked on consecutive terms of 90 to 180 years for Floyd and 671/2 to 125 years for Warner for their accompanying convictions on bank robbery, conspiracy, and weapons charges from the May 3, 2008, bank robbery that preceded Liczbinski's killing.

The practical effect: Neither will leave prison alive.

Should a future governor decide to commute their sentences, or the legislature allow parole for first- and second-degree murder, Hughes said, Floyd and Warner would start serving their consecutive sentences.

She told each she would oppose any parole or commutation "until I draw my last breath."

Hughes had scathing words for both, but especially Floyd. He had to watch his trial on closed-circuit TV after he punched one of his lawyers during the first week of jury selection and was barred from the courtroom.

"You are unredeemable, a coward of the lowest order," she told Floyd, a sometime stickup man who on May 3, 2008, was a fugitive from a halfway house after being paroled from prison.

Citing Floyd's disguise during the bank robbery as a woman in full Muslim garb, Hughes said, "You chose to disrespect the faith you claim to uphold. . . . People in Philadelphia cross the street to avoid Muslim women because of you."

Of Warner, a former heavyweight boxer and onetime sparring partner of heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, Hughes said, "I don't understand you, I really don't, because you're not stupid, and I don't believe you have brain damage.

"But I don't know why you made the choice you did. I don't know why you chose to walk away from Denise Monroe, a woman who loves you, and four children you are responsible for, and take up with these people."

Warner turned and briefly apologized to the Liczbinski family and thanked his own family for their support.

The family and friends of Liczbinski - a 12-year police veteran who was killed three days shy of his 40th birthday and six months after his promotion to sergeant - sat frozen in their seats as the forewoman's announcement settled over them.

Michelle Liczbinski, his widow, and 18-year-old daughter Amber, one of their three adult children, stared ahead and occasionally wiped away tears.

On the other side of the large Criminal Justice Center courtroom, Warner's mother, Dolores Warner, also dried her eyes. His fiancee, Monroe, sat quietly.

None of the families would comment to reporters after the sentence.

The jurors had seemed an amicable, cohesive group since testimony began June 29. But by Tuesday afternoon, some looked haggard and a few angry. One or two sat with their arms crossed, shaking their heads in disbelief as the forewoman told the judge they were deadlocked.

Outside court, some police officials could not hold back their disappointment.

"They both should have died," said John McNesby, president of Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Informed that the jury was deadlocked 10-2, he said of the holdouts: "I hope they can lay their heads on the pillow and know what they did."

Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey was out of town, and Deputy Commissioners William Blackburn and Kevin Bethel attended in his place.

Blackburn said the jury showed the defendants more mercy than the pair showed Sgt. Liczbinski. "Unfortunately, it wasn't the death penalty," he said, "but we'll never see them on the streets again."

Assistant District Attorney Jude Conroy, who spoke outside the courthouse with a row of officers and Michelle Liczbinski standing silently at his side, told reporters, "They'll spend the rest of their lives in jail, and for that we're grateful."

During five weeks of compelling, often brutally graphic testimony, the jury heard how Floyd and Warner came to become part of the plan by Howard Cain, 33, to rob a Bank of America branch inside a Port Richmond ShopRite.

The trio got away with about $38,000 in a Jeep Liberty. But witnesses and store security cameras had given police a description and the license plate before the trio even exited the store parking lot at Aramingo and Castor Avenues.

Soon, Liczbinski was in pursuit in his patrol car, following the Jeep through the narrow Port Richmond streets in which he was born, was reared, and lived.

At Almond and Schiller Streets, the Jeep halted at a stop sign. In front of horrified neighbors out on a warm Saturday morning, Cain got out of the car, strode a few feet toward the patrol car, and began firing a 35-shot SKS Chinese military assault rifle.

Liczbinski was hit by the first shot as he got out, yelling, "No, no, no!" and sought cover. Seven other shots followed. Liczbinski was left unconscious on the street near his car, dying as neighbors cradled him.

After switching to Warner's Chrysler minivan, the robbers drove to nearby Feltonville, where they split up.

A short time later, two police officers confronted Cain as he unloaded the bank cash from the van. He pulled the SKS rifle and aimed at one officer, but it jammed. He was shot and killed at the scene.

Warner was arrested that day. Floyd was picked up May 8 after a week on the lam.

Both were charged with first-degree murder under the conspiracy law, which holds any conspirator culpable for the acts of conspirators.

Both confessed after their arrests, and Warner's statement was especially damning. Warner said that Floyd, the getaway-car driver, got frustrated when he could not lose the pursuing Liczbinski and told Cain, "Bang him."

Warner said he then handed Cain the rifle.

Despite Conroy's evidence about Floyd's and Warner's long careers of violent crime and prior prison terms, at least two jurors could not extrapolate the first-degree verdict into a death penalty for two men who did not fire a shot.

"We were certainly thankful that the jury could not reach a decision," W. Fred Harrison Jr., one of Warner's attorney, said afterward. "I think it boiled down really to whether these guys were shooters or nonshooters."


Contact staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com.


|
|
|
|
|