Murder hearing turns on testimony of boy, 11

Posted: February 27, 2014

FOR A long time yesterday, it looked as if Rudolph McGriff, who had beaten five murder arrests, might beat a sixth.

Two witnesses recanted during McGriff's preliminary hearing, with one claiming he saw nothing because he's "half-blind."

But then an 11-year-old boy took the stand.

Myzeh Jessie-Ross calmly testified about the frequent fights that his mother, Malisha "Lai Lai" Jessie, 29, had endured with McGriff, her longtime on-and-off beau.

Just hours before she was gunned down on McGriff's Tioga block last April 7, Jessie-Ross said, the broken-up pair got into a shouting match about McGriff's new girlfriend.

And then there was the last picture Jessie took on her cellphone, a few hours before she died. Police believe it was a photo of McGriff's silver Mercedes, parked near his house.

McGriff, according to Jessie's brother and sister, really wanted to get his hands on that phone after she died.

That was enough to persuade Municipal Judge Dawn A. Segal to order McGriff held without bail for trial in Jessie's slaying. She scheduled his arraignment for March 18.

McGriff was charged with murder in 1992 and 1993 and beat both cases. He got nabbed again in 1995 for a triple slaying, but he and six other defendants were freed on the issue of a speedy-trial violation.

After Jessie was killed, homicide detectives found two elderly neighbors who said they heard a loud argument and gunshots and rushed to look outside.

One of the neighbors, Freddie Brown, 65, told police last year that he saw a small black man in a gray hoodie walking away from the homicide scene. But yesterday, he backed off those statements, saying he was groggy on medication and couldn't see well after being diagnosed as a child as "half-blind."

Another neighbor, Eric Wallace, 55, identified McGriff as the gray-hoodied man he saw strolling past his home just after the gunfire. He also recanted, saying that his view was impeded by everything from his chemotherapy for cancer to his door's wrought-iron security bars.

"He's not the person. I couldn't see neither. But I know it ain't him," Wallace said, inclining his head toward McGriff, who sat somberly at the defense table.

"If you couldn't see, how do you know who it was?" Assistant District Attorney Andrew Notaristefano responded.

"I don't know who it was," Wallace said, prompting Notaristefano to show Wallace his videotaped police interrogation in which he had ID'd McGriff.

Jessie-Ross said his mother had broken up with McGriff - "Crazyboy" on her cellphone - during the winter and had a tattoo with his nickname "Ru" inked over with a diamond tattoo.

Still, she was furious that McGriff had a new live-in girlfriend, Jessie-Ross said. Two nights before she died, McGriff and Jessie had fought loudly on the phone. And the day before, she drove, with her son in tow, to his block, approached him as he walked his dog and threatened to flatten his car tires and smash his windshield, Jessie-Ross said.

Jessie's sister Priscilla Jessie and brother Aiking Jessie both testified that they spoke with McGriff several times after her slaying and he expressed an interest in obtaining her phone. Police found seven photos of interest on the phone, all taken near the Bailey Street house that McGriff owned. One was a piece of mail addressed to his girlfriend, five were of his Mercedes, and police believe the last picture she ever took - at 2:32 on the morning she died - is also of McGriff's Mercedes.

Aiking Jessie said that he met up with McGriff at a TGI Friday's weeks after the slaying, and that the suspect again asked about the phone. Jessie asked McGriff why he hadn't given a statement to detectives.

"He said he didn't talk to police," Aiking Jessie testified. "He said because of his history, he didn't want to go down there."


On Twitter: @DanaDiFilippo

Blog: phillyconfidential.com

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