Minimum sentence for gunman in shooting of 2 children

Posted: August 11, 2012

To the dismay of prosecutors and police, a Common Pleas Court judge gave the minimum possible sentence Friday to a Southwest Philadelphia man convicted of wounding two children with stray bullets in 2010 as he shot at a rival in the drug trade.

Judge Lisette Shirdan-Harris sentenced Kevin Pickard, 26, to three concurrent sentences of five to 10 years for shooting the children and the man. That is the minimum under Pennsylvania law for people who commit violent gun crimes.

The wounding of the brothers - one 2 at the time, the other 8 - outraged the city, generating extensive coverage and seeming to epitomize the unchecked violence plaguing Southwest Philadelphia.

Assistant District Attorney Bill Davis had asked the judge to put Pickard away for more than three decades. He was stunned by the decision.

"The sentence is ridiculous," Davis said immediately after Friday's hearing. "I think it sends out the exact wrong message: that you can shoot our innocent children and get the minimum sentence for that."

Before he was sentenced, Pickard for the first time publicly admitted his guilt.

He mentioned Anetta Johns, the mother of the children, who was in the courtroom.

"I want to apologize to Mrs. Johns for what happened to her kids," he said. "I have three kids of my own."

After learning his fate, Pickard swiveled and smiled at family sitting behind him.

In brief remarks before sentencing, Shirdan-Harris said she had taken note of letters in support of Pickard. One from a recreation center leader said Pickard had plans to start a basketball league.

But she also said that crimes involving children were especially serious and that Pickard seemed a poor candidate for rehabilitation. He was on probation for a drug-possession conviction at the time of the shooting, Shirdan-Harris said.

Then she imposed a five- to 10-year sentence for each of three aggravated assault convictions, to run simultaneously, followed by five years of probation.

Police and Davis had put together a difficult case, overcoming neighborhood fear and a lack of cooperation from witnesses who initially lied or who "went south" later, disavowing in court their statements to investigators.

As Detectives Matt Farley, Freddie Mole, and Matt Maurizio and Sgt. Mike Davis unraveled the case, they came to see it as the climax of a pattern of vendetta shootings.

During a trial in June, Davis told the jury that on the Saturday afternoon of Sept. 18, 2010, Pickard was stalking another man from Southwest Philadelphia, Marquis Wesley, then 19.

Pickard was seeking vengeance because Wesley had shot Pickard's cousin a month earlier, Davis said. Wesley is to go on trial next month in that case.

Pickard followed Wesley into a cellphone store at 67th Street and Woodland Avenue. When his quarry left, Pickard waited 15 seconds and left too.

On the street, he pulled a .45-caliber handgun and fired six shots. One bullet struck Wesley in one thigh, severing an artery.

Others flew 20 feet past Wesley to strike the brothers, playing just feet from their rowhouse. The toddler, Deshaown Brown, was hit in the groin and was injured more seriously. His older brother, Joseph, was hit in the buttocks.

The boy's mother never returned to that street. After staying night and day at the hospital next to Deshaown for two weeks, she moved her family to a new home. At the trial, she told the jury she could not bear to see her children's blood on the front steps.

Both boys recovered, though they continue to see a psychologist to deal with lingering emotional trauma.

In the hospital, Wesley identified Pickard as the man who shot him, circling his mug shot among a set of photographs brought him by detectives.

In June, he recanted, telling jurors detectives had badgered him and treated him like "I was was the one doing the shooting."

Finally, he testified, he falsely implicated Pickard. "I said this because we agreed upon what we agreed upon," he told the jury. "I'm just going with the flow."

In his closing argument, Davis argued that Wesley spoke the truth in the hospital and lied in court.

But Davis also drew upon surveillance video and a audiotape from a prison phone to help convict Pickard.

In video taken from the cellphone store, a man with a build similar to Pickard's was captured hovering behind Wesley shortly before the shooting.

And in a recording of a call Pickard made from prison to his mother, he admitted he had been in the store. He said that even though the prison phone system warns all inmates they are being recorded.

Brenda Harrison, a neighborhood activist in Southwest Philadelphia, spoke during the sentencing hearing to decry bloodshed in the neighborhood.

"It's gotten to the point where people are afraid to go outside," she told reporters later. "They's afraid to speak up."

Harrison later criticized the sentence as lenient. Davis, the assistant district attorney, said he would file a motion Monday asking the judge to reconsider.

Since Pickard faced a mandatory five years for a gun crime, Davis said, it was almost as if he had been sentenced only for shooting his target, Wesley.

"He won't spend one extra day in prison for shooting those two little boys," Davis said.

Detectives noted that Pickard has been locked up for almost two years awaiting trial. With credit for time served, he would hit his minimum in three years. "Disgusted," one detective said when asked for a reaction to the punishment.

They also remarked about the prison tapes. On them, Pickard appears to say that the warring parties had agreed not to testify against each other.

But once they get out, Pickard says, it's "back on again."


Contact Craig R. McCoy at 215-854-4821 or cmccoyo@phillynews.com.

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