Death penalty phase begins in Omar Sharif Cash trial

Posted: November 14, 2013

A Philadelphia jury last week took less than 40 minutes to convict Omar Sharif Cash of murder in the 2008 killing of Muliek Brown. On Tuesday, the panel learned that the crime was far from his first.

As the sentencing phase of Cash's trial began, prosecutors delved deep into the 31-year-old's run-ins with the law, including a narrow escape from a potential death sentence three years previously, in an effort to convince jurors that this time he deserved to die.

"This is the rare circumstance where [the death penalty decision] is not about the vileness of the specific murder," said prosecutor Peter Lim, "but the terrible nature of the person involved."

Cash has never disputed that he shot Brown execution-style outside a Frankford car wash on April 21, 2008. Before his latest troubles, he had earned a reputation among law enforcement as the crook they could not seem to convict.

A 2009 Inquirer series detailed how rape charges against him were dismissed when the victim failed to appear at trial; a robbery case sank when the alleged victim fled; and an attempted-murder charge evaporated when the victim hanged himself.

In 2010, a Bucks County jury deadlocked on whether Cash deserved death for the kidnapping of a Northeast Philadelphia couple - a crime committed even as police pursued him for Brown's killing. He squeaked through with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

And, testifying Tuesday, the female victim in that case tearfully recounted how Cash carjacked her and her fiance, fatally shot the man in the head, and then drove her to a motel and raped her several times before she managed to escape. Lim suggested Tuesday that her tormentor derived sexual pleasure from her distress.

She was joined by a cavalcade of others to detail the trail of destruction Cash had blazed through their lives.

Daniel Forde, 60, said Cash robbed him when the two shared a jail cell in 2004.

Joanne Felder, the mother of Brown's longtime girlfriend, blamed Cash for destroying her family.

Cash calmly studied his fingernails throughout, showing no sign any of this bothered him.

Defense lawyer Earl G. Kauffman urged jurors Tuesday to look beyond that record and consider his client's past.

Rejected by his father, abandoned by his crack-addled mother, and forced, at age 6, to turn to the streets, Cash had little hope for a productive life, Kauffman said.

"The situation in Bucks County was brutal. I'm not going to even argue the situation with Muliek Brown," Kauffman said. "The question is, how the hell did he end up in that situation?"

If jurors do not impose the death penalty, Cash will automatically be sentenced to another life term.

215-925-2649 @jeremyrroebuck

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