Woman in SEPTA bus shooting pleads guilty

Posted: June 06, 2012

A 21-year-old woman who prosecutors say called in friends who strafed a SEPTA bus in an attempt to kill a passenger with whom she had argued pleaded guilty Tuesday before a Philadelphia judge in a deal that puts her prison for five to 10 years.

Penny Chapman’s plea came a day before she was to have gone to trial with two alleged accomplices in the shooting on the afternoon of June 18, 2011, on the northbound Route 47 bus at Seventh Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue in North Philadelphia.

Chapman pleaded guilty before Common Pleas Court Judge Willis W. Berry Jr. to one count of attempted murder, one count of conspiracy, one count of criminal solicitation, 11 counts of aggravated assault, two counts of possessing an instrument of crime, one count of reckless endangerment, one count of simple assault, one count of terroristic threats. and one count of shooting at an occupied vehicle.

Chapman, a single mother who had no previous criminal record, responded to Berry’s questions in a barely audible voice and told the judge that "I’m very remorseful, and I’m happy that no one got hurt. I just hope for the chance to be with my family."

When she leaves prison, Chapman will be on five years of probation. Berry warned her that a future conviction for aggravated assault would carry a mandatory 10-year-prison term, and a "third strike" a prison term of 25 years to life.

Berry allowed Chapman to remain in the Philadelphia prison system until next week so she could have a last visit with her 2½-year-old son, Syncer, whom she has not seen since her arrest. Chapman’s father, two brothers, a sister, and a family friend were in court to support her.

Although Chapman pleaded guilty, defense attorney Joseph D. Lento told Berry she disagreed strongly with two items that prosecutors said showed she instigated the incident.

The shooting — nine bullets penetrated the bus’ side, but no passengers were hurt — was caught on a dramatic video by a SEPTA bus newly equipped with eight security cameras and later viewed by millions on television and the Internet.

Lento said Chapman maintains that the dispute with passenger Lefenus Pickett was not about her slapping her son, who was running in the bus’ aisle. Rather, Lento said, Pickett was hectoring Chapman to buy perfume and would not leave her alone.

Nor did Chapman call a friend to send armed men to kill Pickett, Lento said. Chapman said she called a female friend, Dimetrius Patterson, who was related to her son’s father’s family, and asked Patterson to escort her home from the bus stop.

"Ms. Patterson took it upon herself to do what she did," Lento said.

Lento said Chapman decided to plead guilty because she faced a total sentence of 304 years if convicted at trial and because Patterson "decided not to stand behind her."

Assistant District Attorney Morgan Model Vedejs asked Berry to accept the plea agreement and sentence but strongly disagreed with Chapman’s version of events.

"She knew exactly who she called, and she wasn’t that good friends," Vedejs said. "She knew that Dimetrius could round up the rest of her son’s family."

Chapman’s decision to plead was also likely spurred by the fact that her child’s paternal uncle, Angel Lecourt, had pleaded guilty and will testify for the prosecution at trial. Lecourt, 19, is seen on the video meeting Chapman at the bus’ side door as she points out Pickett to him and, prosecutors say, tells him to have Pickett shot.

Lecourt has not been sentenced, and prosecutors say he will testify at the forthcoming trials of alleged accomplices Lawrence Rahyle, 19, and Keith Bellamy, 23, as well as Patterson. Rahyle and Bellamy are to go on trial Wednesday before Berry. Patterson, 23, will be tried separately later because she was arrested after the other defendants, Vedejs said.

The two gunmen seen on the video firing at the bus as it pulls away — Patterson’s cousins Karon, 20, and Raheen, 22 — each pleaded guilty in May   and are serving sentences of 15 to 30 years.

Chapman, the Patterson cousins and Lecourt all pleaded guilty to the same charges, Vedejs said.

Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985, jslobodzian@phillynews.com, or follow him on Twitter @JoeSlobo

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