Two robbers in brutal spree 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 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, and the judge showed no qualms about 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 a leg because he was too slow to surrender his cash, and a mother stripped and interrogated as her 2-year-old boy watched and wailed.

"Shut that kid up or we will kill him," one gunmen vowed, she later testified.

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 told investigators he had been robbed by a midget. Authorities described Duran as a vicious career thug 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, wrote in a memo to the judge. "He is manipulative and violent, leaving a trail of destruction behind him."

Duran faces more than 200 years in prison at his sentencing Friday. He, Staten, Brown, and John Bowie were convicted in trials in May. 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, said Staten had endured a horrific childhood, shuffled among foster homes, poor and abused and without adult role models or mentors. "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 reviewed testimony of the many victims at the trials - and believed them all.

Coleman, the judge noted, showed jurors the iron-shape scars burned into his back. And he testified that his captors made it clear 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 son, stripped her, and 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 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 out and told him to walk away and not look back.

Coleman told jurors that he came upon a homeless man 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 steep, and mandatory, because the crimes involved firearms.

The judge said the terror that was so consistently visible on the victims' faces 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 jmartin@phillynews.com or follow @JPMartinInky on Twitter.

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