Violent robbery gang members get more than 127 years

Posted: October 18, 2012

After a prison stint for peddling crack cocaine, Brandon Coleman abandoned the drug trade for a job at a fast-food joint. Then he discovered history is not so easily erased.

In March 2010, Coleman ran into his ex-girlfriend, Jacklyn Smith. She lured him back to her Yeadon apartment - and into an ambush.

Coleman was blindfolded, stripped and bound, stabbed 20 times and scorched with a clothes iron. "Where's the money?" his captors demanded, deaf to Coleman's claim that he no longer sold drugs.

Within hours, the same crew of robbers had terrorized people at two other West Philadelphia apartments, traded gunfire outside a third, dumped a naked and bloodied Coleman onto a city street, and led police on a 45-minute chase.

The night's events came during a ruthless crime spree that stood out in a city inured to violence. On Wednesday, a judge started meting out punishments to match.

U.S. District Judge Legrome D. Davis sentenced two of the robbers - 30-year-old Lamar Staten and 24-year-old Raheem Brown - each to more than 127 years in prison. Two other accomplices set for sentencing Friday face even longer mandatory terms under federal guidelines, and the judge suggested he has no qualms imposing them.

"This is beyond the pale," Davis said, calling the "extended depravity" of the group unlike anything he had seen in 25 years on the bench. "The terror was consistent."

The robbers' innocent victims included an elderly deli worker kicked so hard his ribs cracked, a pregnant woman who feared she had lost her baby after being thrown to the ground, an auto body shop customer shot in the leg because he was too slow to surrender his cash, a blind man, and a mother rousted from bed at gunpoint, stripped and interrogated while her 2-year-old boy watched and wailed.

"Shut that kid up or we will kill him," one of the gunmen promised.

Authorities said Coleman's abduction and a string of the robberies were led by Emmanuel Duran, 24, who was Smith's boyfriend at the time.

Duran did not appear imposing, being so short that one victim later told investigators he thought he had been robbed by a midget. But authorities described him as a cold, vicious thug, a career offender whose earliest crimes included raping a 12-year-old girl when he was 16.

"Emmanuel Duran is an evil and dangerous man," Assistant U. S. Attorney Arlene D. Fisk, who prosecuted the case, stated bluntly in one court document. "He is manipulative and violent, leaving a trail of destruction behind him."

Duran faces more than 200 years in prison when he comes before Davis on Friday. He, Staten, Brown and John Bowie were convicted in trials earlier this year. In a plea deal, Smith agreed to testify against the others and faces about 32 years in prison at her sentencing Thursday.

The FBI and Philadelphia police eventually linked the defendants, and two other men, to three home invasions, one attempted home invasion and robberies at six mom-and-pop pharmacies, an auto body shop and a deli between November 2009 and May 2010. The take was never large - often a few thousand dollars and OxyContin from the pharmacies - but the violence was relentless.

"These are skillful professionals," Davis said. "They know what they are doing, and they do it well."

Staten's lawyer, Henry S. Hilles III, told the judge that Staten had endured a horrific childhood, shuffled among foster homes, poor and abused and without a family or any adult role models.

"It literally was a guide in how not to raise a child," Hilles said.

But the judge quickly cut the argument short.

"I don't think that family backgrounds brought us here," Davis said. The judge said he heard and reviewed the testimony of the many victims at the trials - and he believed them all.

Coleman, the judge noted, showed jurors the iron-shaped scars burned into his back. And he testified that his captors made it clear from the outset that they intended to kill him.

Coleman's cousin, Hanif Hall, had accompanied him to Smith's apartment and the assailants knocked his teeth out in the ambush.

Hall tried to appease the robbers by suggesting he could lead them to Coleman's home on Cedar Avenue, where they might find money. Duran, Bowie and Staten led Hall away at gunpoint.

Around midnight, the gunmen rousted Coleman's girlfriend and her 2-year-old boy, stripped her, stole $900, her jewelry and other items.

As they fled, they noticed a gathering outside a house down the street, and assumed it must be a drug house. So they stormed that site and robbed the occupants.

But Hall, their hostage, got away in the scuffle and the plot began to unravel. When they approached Hall's apartment building, a shootout ensued.

With the police closing in, the trio called back to Smith's apartment and told their accomplices to grab Coleman and leave the building. The men put their hostage, naked and wrapped in plastic, in the trunk of a car and sped off.

Somewhere in North Philadelphia, the car blew a tire. Coleman's captors pulled him from the trunk and told him to walk away and not look back.

Coleman told jurors that he came upon a homeless man who was wearing three pairs of sweatpants on that cold March night.

The man gave him one.

Coleman was hospitalized for several weeks, but was able to identify his ex-girlfriend as one of his assailants. Smith turned herself in five days after the attack; the others were arrested in the months that followed.

The sentences were so steep - and mandatory - because the crimes involved firearms, even though no one was killed.

Two of the men who abducted and tortured Coleman were never prosecuted or publicly identified. He never saw their faces, he told jurors, so the fear of meeting them again never ceases.

The judge said the terror that was so consistently visible on the victims' faces as they testified at trial showed that something profound was missing within the defendants. "It's just an absence of human kindness," Davis said. "It's cruelty."

Contact John P. Martin at 215-854-4774, at or follow @JPMartinInky on Twitter.

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