Suspected of murder, held for two years, man has charges dropped

Eric Locke was accused of murder, held without bail.
Eric Locke was accused of murder, held without bail.
Posted: May 11, 2014

Two years ago, Eric Locke was held without bail, awaiting trial and facing the death penalty for killing the owner of a North Philadelphia check-cashing business.

Locke, 34, insisted he was innocent and said he could prove he was in Williamsport, 180 miles away, when Joel Blumer was shot to death.

On Friday, prosecutors officially believed him. Assistant District Attorney Jude Conroy went before a Philadelphia judge and withdrew all charges.

Afterward, Conroy said he could not comment at length about Locke's case because the killing of Blumer is now an open investigation.

"In light of the evidence we have . . . the most prudent course was to withdraw the charges and continue to investigate," he said.

Conroy added that the charges were withdrawn without prejudice, meaning that Locke could be rearrested later if new evidence showed he was involved in Blumer's death.

"This is as scary as it gets," said Anthony J. Voci Jr., Locke's attorney. "I used to be a homicide prosecutor and this was my worst nightmare."

Voci said that only a reinvestigation in the last six months by Conroy confirmed Locke's long-held alibi that he was visiting the mother of his two children the morning of March 3, 2012, when Blumer was shot and killed.

Locke's cellphone and the Williamsport van owner who drove him to Philadelphia later that afternoon corroborated his story, the attorney said.

Locke was still in prison late Friday afternoon. Voci said a Monday release was likely. He said Locke would not agree to be interviewed.

Voci praised Conroy's "courage and integrity" for dropping a case of capital murder.

Blumer, 53, of Holland, Bucks County - married and the father of two - was killed before 9 a.m. on a Saturday as he was opening his B&R Check Cashing at 26th and Sterner Streets.

Locke surrendered March 8, 2012, after he saw his photo on television identified by police as the suspect in Blumer's killing.

"He really thought he was going in to clear his name," Voci said. "He had an alibi and told them to look at his cellphone."

No one did, Voci said.

One reason might be that homicide detectives had four eyewitnesses who picked Locke's picture from a photo array.

Another was that, with two armed robbery convictions, which put Locke in prison for a total of about 13 years, and a less-than-savory street rep, it wasn't a stretch for detectives to consider him their man.

Voci said Locke's mother, grandmother and sister told him as much when he was appointed to represent Locke in June 2012.

"They said they knew their loved one didn't do it but, based on his record, nobody would believe he didn't commit this crime," Voci said.

In fact, Locke had been released from prison just two months before the shooting death.

As 2012 became 2013, Voci worked with lawyer Judith Rubino, another former homicide prosecutor, to develop evidence about Locke's background that might convince a jury to opt for life in prison instead of death.

Locke's case was assigned to Common Pleas Court Judge Sandy L.V. Byrd for trial last spring. In October, after the second prosecutor assigned to the case left for private practice, Conroy was assigned. He and Voci were friends from their days in the homicide unit.

"I went to [Conroy] and said, 'You really need to take another hard look at this case,'" Voci said.

The prosecution withdrew its intention to seek the death penalty in November and on New Year's Eve, Voci said, Conroy called him: "I need more time."

Trial was postponed, reset and postponed again. This time there was no trial date; only Friday's status hearing.

Voci said he understands the problems confronting law enforcement but is still stunned that Locke's alibi was not checked when he was arrested.

"You can't put someone in a capital case unless you're sure," Voci added. "We're not talking about a simple assault or a bar fight here. We're talking about all the marbles."


jslobodzian@phillynews.com

215-854-2985 @joeslobo

www.inquirer.com/crimeandpunishment

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