Trial opens for suspect in deadly 2004 firebombing



No one was awake – not the 57-year-old grandmother, her niece or the four children – when the two men carrying red cans full of gas climbed the porch of their North 6th Street house in the pre-dawn darkness.

One kicked the door in, and fired gunshots up the stairs to keep everyone frozen in their bedrooms. Then they lit the cloths that plugged the gas cans like wicks, and tossed the makeshift bombs inside.

In seconds, the fire engulfed the house, killing all the occupants. The October 2004 attack shook the city as one of the grimmest examples of witness retaliation.

On Monday, federal prosecutors opened their case against the drug dealer they say ordered the killings of Marcella Coleman, her three grandsons, her niece and niece’s 10-year-old daughter.

Kaboni Savage, they say, sent a message to Coleman’s son, who had agreed to testify against him. “They all rats,” Savage allegedly later crowed. “They all had to go.”

Savage, 38, is already serving 30 years in prison for drug conspiracy. But prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, accusing him of heading an enterprise in which trafficking, murder and arson were common.

For more than two hours, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer walked jurors methodically from Savage’s beginnings as a street dealer to his emergence as a trafficker in North Philadelphia. He outlined his role in six other killings, mostly of rival dealers or associates who posed a threat.

“He ruled this organization by fear, by intimidation, by murder,” Troyer told the jury, a mostly older, white panel of 14 women and four men, whose names are sealed.

On trial with Savage are his sister, Kidada Savage; Steven Northington, described as an enforcer for the gang, and Robert Merritt, one of the men who allegedly carried out the firebombing. Merritt and Northington also face the death penalty if convicted.

Savage’s lawyer conceded the fire was “a tragedy of epic proportions” but asked jurors to be guided by facts, not gut-wrenching photos of the blaze or smiling victims.

The drug allegations are no different than the ones that led to Savage’s 2005 conviction, lawyer Christian J. Hoey said. Instead of being a cog, he said, Savage, who drove a Subaru wagon, and paid mortgages on two modest properties, has now been elevated by federal authorities to a kingpin.

“The facts haven’t changed,” Hoey said, “the nametags have.”

Both lawyers agreed this trial will have one glaring difference: Lamont Lewis.

Lewis was the other accomplice in the firebombing, allegedly after getting orders from Savage and his sister. Now he’s the key witness for the prosecution.

Lewis began cooperating with the government in 2008, and has admitted to 11 murders, including some that were unsolved, the prosecutor said. His plea agreement calls for no less than 40 years in prison.

Hoey told jurors the case hinges on how much they trust Lewis, a witness who described himself as “treacherous,” “homicidal,” ” a stone-cold killer” and “an assassin.”

He said that government recordings will show Lewis complaining that agents “want me to lie on somebody” and asking a lawyer if he might collect the $100,000 reward for information on the Coleman bombing.

The trial, before U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick, is scheduled to last at least three months, built largely on the word of cooperators and secret recordings. Many were gathered on prison phone lines or from a bug planted in Savage’s jail cell, capturing comments that prosecutors say show him to be a heartless murderer.

In one, he says of the five-year-old daughter of a cooperator: “I gonna blow her little head off.” And after Coleman was freed from prison to attend his relatives’ funeral, Savage allegedly quipped: “They should stop off and get him some barbecue sauce . . . pour it on them burnt bitches.”

Hoey asked jurors not to be swayed by “stupid” rantings from a prisoner in isolation. He noted said Savage wasn’t able to carry out any threats and never is heard admitting to the Coleman murders.

According to Hoey, even Savage’s associates didn’t take him seriously. He pointed to a May 2008 recorded conversation between Lewis and a friend.

“He’s already doing 30 years,” Lewis said about Savage. “He’s not a threat. Never been a threat. Nobody ever been scared of him.”

Lawyers for Northington, Kidada Savage and Merritt are scheduled to give their opening arguments on Tuesday.

Distracted Driving

Pennsylvania defines distracted driving as “an activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving.” Drivers have to focus on driving, so they can react to the information on the road, such as road conditions, hazards and other drivers. Distracted drivers do not react appropriately and thus put others at risk for severe injury or death. Examples of distractions, besides using cell phones and texting, include drinking, eating, adjusting the radio, adjusting climate controls, adjusting seats, combing hair, putting on make-up, daydreaming, reaching for dropped items, engaging in heavy conversations, and focusing on events outside of the car.

Driving Under the Influence

Driving under the influence typically refers to alcohol use, but drug use can also impair drivers and cause severe car accidents.  In either situation, enjoying cocktails at happy hour, celebrating with drugs or alcohol, drinking too much wine for dinner and unwinding after a long week at work results in too many motorists driving under the influence.  Controlled substances impact each person differently, making it common for someone to misjudge his or her level of impairment.  These poor judgments can lead to severe and sometimes fatal car accidents.

Driver Fatigue

Driving without enough sleep is commonplace for many in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and across the nation. Truck drivers, shift workers, and those with sleep disorders are most vulnerable to causing an accident because they are drowsy or fatigued. Not having enough rest slows down reaction time and impairs the senses. In fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) claims that eighteen (18) hours without sleep impairs a driver to the same extent as someone who has a 0.08 blood or breath alcohol concentration after consuming alcohol.


The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that one-third of all car accidents involve speeding. Drivers who rush, run late, or simply lack patience may choose to speed when they get behind the wheel. Speeding makes it more likely that a driver will lose control of his or her vehicle and makes it more difficult to react to road hazards and other vehicles. Speeding also increases the impact of a car accident and makes it far less likely that a negligent driver may maintain control of his vehicle sufficient to prevent a collision. High speed car accidents make it far more likely that those involved will suffer severe injuries or death.


At HoeyLegal, we know from our litigation experience that tractor-trailer drivers often operate at least one cellular phone which is in use at, during, or immediately prior to a tractor-trailer accident. Additionally, most tractor-trailers are equipped with data recorders which capture, in real-time, important vehicle operation events including speed, hard braking and other evasive maneuvers taken by the operator and the tractor-trailer.  It is imperative that this evidence be obtained before it is destroyed.  At HoeyLegal, our trial attorneys will obtain any necessary court order to preserve this evidence for trial.


Oftentimes, there are several defendants responsible for the tractor-trailer accident. In most cases, at least two defendants are responsible for the ownership and operation of the tractor-trailer.  There may be additional defendants responsible for the hiring and retention of the tractor-trailer driver.  At HoeyLegal, our investigators will promptly identify the responsible defendants and immediately request the preservation of all evidence related to the hiring and retention of the driver, inspection of the vehicles and the supervision and drug/alcohol testing of the vehicle operator.


Our accident investigators include mechanics who will immediately respond to the accident site and the location where the truck has been impounded in order to photograph the truck and conduct necessary mechanical inspections of the vehicle. In the event that a court order is necessary to examine and inspect the trucks, HoeyLegal Attorneys will promptly file the necessary motions to enable the HoeyLegal mechanics and inspectors to conduct a prompt evaluation of the mechanical function of the at-fault tractor-trailer


Our expert accident investigators include former Pennsylvania State Police accident investigators and nationally recognized engineers who will carefully photograph the accident scene and conduct all necessary measurements of skid marks, yaw marks, displacement of debris and thoroughly examine the accident site to preserve all evidence for the time of trial.


Our investigators will promptly interview and record all witnesses that observed the accident and collect all biographical information from the witnesses so they will available to testify on your behalf at trial.

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