North Phila. man awaiting drug case ends up as murder suspect

Dante Hill, charged in 2011 slaying in Logan.
Dante Hill, charged in 2011 slaying in Logan.
Posted: August 08, 2014

Philadelphia lawyer Max Gerson Kramer said he had to check the status of another case, so he told client Dante Hill he'd be back soon, and to wait in Courtroom 603 of the Criminal Justice Center for the start of Hill's preliminary hearing on drug charges.

It was shortly before noon Tuesday, and that was the last Kramer saw of the 25-year-old Hill.

It wasn't that Hill decided to flee or take a pass on the justice system. That happens every day. Instead, Hill had been whisked out of Municipal Judge Wendy L. Pew's courtroom by a city homicide detective and charged in a three-year-old murder.

Kramer said he was checking on his other case when he got a call from a somewhat nervous Hill, who said a homicide detective was in the courtroom with him and "wanted to talk to him."

"I asked him, 'Does he have a warrant?' And he said the detective said he'll be waiting for me in five to 10 minutes. When I got there, everyone was gone," Kramer said.

Kramer said it was a first for him, having a client taken from a courtroom and charged with murder. He said he still had not heard from Hill or the detective, Thomas Gaul, whom Kramer said he knew from his days as an assistant district attorney.

According to police, Hill, of the 1700 block of West Oxford Street in North Philadelphia, was charged with homicide, aggravated assault, and related offenses in the July 7, 2011, early-morning shooting death of Raseen Wright, 34, of the 1300 block of Wagner Street in Logan.

Wright was found shot in the head and upper back in the 1300 block of Brown Street in North Philadelphia. An unidentified 24-year-old man was wounded in the left leg in the same encounter.

Hill was denied bail and ordered held pending an Aug. 20 preliminary hearing.

It was not known Wednesday how investigators linked Hill to the Wright shooting. Kramer said Hill had never intimated to him that he was suspected in a homicide.

Kramer said he did not know whether he would be representing Hill in the homicide case, although he said he had been Hill's lawyer "for most of his long criminal career."

Although Hill has been arrested about a dozen times since 2006, court records show just one conviction in 2009 - a first offense for marijuana, for which he was sentenced to 72 hours to six months in jail.

Last month, Kramer said, a Philadelphia jury acquitted Hill of all charges in a 2010 gun case.

"Funny thing about him is that I think he's really a likable guy," Kramer added. "He's respectful, well-mannered, dresses well, and doesn't make any stupid comments like most."

Court records show Wright also had a long list of arrests dating to 1995. He pleaded guilty in 2001 to aggravated assault and a weapons charge, and was sentenced to one to three years in prison.

215-854-2985 @joeslobo

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