Taking photos in Phila. court gets jail term for Del. man

Posted: January 26, 2011

Just because cell-phone photos are free doesn't mean they can't be costly.

Ask Mark Henderson, a 26-year-old Wilmington man who learned that the five shots he took in a Philadelphia courtroom on Tuesday morning will cost him five months and 29 days in jail.

Henderson protested his innocence. He said he merely wanted a photo to remember pal Kevin Weaver, who was about to leave on a 221/2-to-52-year stay in prison for murder.

"The gray hairs I have mean that I wasn't born yesterday," replied Common Pleas Court Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes, citing Henderson for contempt of court for witness intimidation.

The photos he took, the judge reminded him, included one of her and four of the back of Weaver's head. There also was the matter of Henderson's texting - note-taking, he insisted, to help him recall what transpired in court.

"I don't believe you," Hughes replied.

Weaver, 23, of West Philadelphia, was supposed to be tried Tuesday in the March 8, 2009, killing of Idris Jackson, 21, of Overbrook.

Although Weaver and Jackson were friends, said Assistant District Attorney Deborah Watson-Stokes, a problem in the relationship led Weaver to shoot Jackson six times in the head and body.

Ultimately, Weaver pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and was sentenced Tuesday by Hughes. But Watson-Stokes said that didn't stop Henderson and Daaim Thomas, 26, of West Philadelphia, from snapping pictures and noting which witnesses against Weaver were present. They were spotted by court personnel and homicide detectives.

"Why should he care about my witnesses?" Hughes asked Thomas' attorney, James A. Funt.

Witness intimidation is a serious problem in Philadelphia courts, where witnesses frequently recant or refuse to testify because they fear retaliation by criminal defendants' relatives or friends.

It's a special focus for Hughes, a member of a court reform panel created by the state Supreme Court.

Henderson and Thomas forfeited their cell phones to detectives, and Hughes ordered them to search the devices for evidence of criminal activity.

Henderson, who defense attorney Lee Mandell said has no criminal record, was so eager to prove his innocence that he called out his phone-lock code number in court to Detective Howard G. Peterman Jr.

Hughes told Henderson she might reconsider her sentence if Mandell can confirm his lack of a criminal record, his employment, and his stable home environment.

Thomas is to appear before the judge on Friday to learn his sentence.

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

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