Stories written by Jo Ciavaglia, award-winning multimedia newspaper reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times in Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa.
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Thursday, August 16, 2012
Witnesses testified they fear accused murderer
Posted: Wednesday, August 15, 2012
On an early June morning five years ago, Witness 1 testified, she saw a drug dealer named “Pooh” reach behind his back as he told a customer known as “Big Man” that he was going to “murk his (expletive).”
Murk is street slang for murder.
Moments after hearing gunshots, Witness 2 testified Tuesday, her cell phone rang. It was her boyfriend, Michael “Pooh” Brooks. He told her to unlock the back door to her grandmother’s home where she lived.
Michael "Pooh" Brooks
Once inside the house, Brooks asked her to wash his hands with bleach to remove gunpowder residue, she said during the preliminary hearing for the 27-year-old Willingboro, N.J., man charged with the 2007 murder of Bristol Township resident Daniel Buchanan.
Following the more than two-hour long proceeding, Bristol Township District Judge Joanne Kline held Brooks for trial on all charges including first-degree murder.
Among the seven witnesses who testified about the morning that Buchanan, 33, was found shot to death in his 1997 Pontiac Bonneville in the 2400 block of Fleetwing Drive were two admitted former crack addicts with felony criminal records.
The newspaper is withholding the names of three prosecution witnesses because of concerns for their safety. After many witnesses were reluctant to talk to police following the murder, the case was handed over to a Bucks County grand jury, which used its subpoena power to compel testimony.
Ten days after the June 15 shooting, Bristol Township police interviewed Witness 1, who told them that a man known as “Pooh” shot “the white guy in the car,” according to an affidavit of probable cause.
On the stand Tuesday, Witness 1 admitted that at the time of the murder she was a crack addict and acted as a “middleman,” putting drug dealers and customers together in exchange for a cut of drugs. She said she’s now been sober for five years.
She testified that on the day of the murder, she had been walking around Bloomsdale-Fleetwing, an area known for its drug activity, when she saw the “Big Man” — Buchanan’s nickname in the neighborhood — pull up in his car looking to score some drugs.
Witness 1 said she got into Buchanan’s car and they drove around the neighborhood for about 20 minutes but couldn’t find any drug dealers, so Buchanan dropped her off, gave her $10 and left.
About an hour later — about 5 a.m. — Witness 1 said she was standing at Fleetwing Drive and Aircoba Street when she saw Buchanan’s car again. She signaled for him to stop.
That’s when Brooks appeared, walking from a nearby backyard, she said. When he reached the car, he yelled at Buchanan, “You’re the (expletive) who taxed me,” Witness 1 said.
Taxed is street slang for someone who rips off a drug dealer. “Big Man” had a reputation for driving off without paying for drugs, Witness 1 said.
Brooks then reached behind his back, Witness 1 said, and she moved to the back of Buchanan’s car and turned away.
She never saw the gun, but she heard shots, a car speed off, and then a crash, she told the court. Buchanan was shot four times, but still drove his car for several blocks before hitting a parked car and tree, according to police.
Why did you turn around? Bucks County prosecutor Nate Spang asked.
Fear, she answered.
“I knew how dangerous this person was,” she said.
But when Bristol Township police appeared at the crime scene that day and asked Witness 1 if she heard gunshots, she reportedly said, “All I heard was firecrackers.”
Under cross examination by Brooks’ defense attorney, Robert Gamburg, Witness 1 — who was convicted in 2002 of robbery — testified that she did not carry a weapon for protection or a cell phone while she was selling or buying drugs. She also claimed that Buchanan never took drugs from her without paying for them.
One question that Witness 1 could not answer was how Brooks knew where to find Buchanan or why he was in the nearby backyard at that early morning hour. But she did testify that, at the time, Brooks was dating Witness 2, one of her relatives.
Witness 2 testified that Brooks had a gun when he appeared at her back door and told her he “did something” though he didn’t say what, she testified. After she washed his hands with the bleach, Witness 2 testified that Brooks grabbed the gun and left.
A short time later, Brooks called her again and asked her to go to the scene of Buchanan’s crash, she testified. He also warned her not to mention his name to police, she said.
“He would kill me and my family,” she added.
Witness 2 did not tell police what she knew about the shooting until she was served a subpoena in 2009 to appear before a grand jury.
Witness 3 — another admitted former crack addict — testified that she saw “Pooh” in the neighborhood the night before the shooting. He gave her and a friend some crack and asked them to direct any customers to him, she testified.
About 30 to 45 minutes before she heard the gunshots, Witness 3 testified that she saw “Pooh” sitting on the front stoop of the home where Witness 2 lived. He was sitting with another drug dealer named “Rah-Rah,” she said.
The defendant’s brother, Omar Brooks, also took the stand Tuesday but refused to answer most of Spang’s questions, despite the threat of being held in contempt. “I’m already locked up,” he said. “What else are you going to do?”
Omar Brooks is incarcerated in New Jersey and, under a plea bargain, agreed to testify for the prosecution in a number of cases including the one against his brother, Spang said.
One of the few answers that Omar Brooks provided was that he testified in 2009 before the grand jury about his brother’s involvement in the Buchanan murder, telling the prosecutor, “because you made me.”
The grand jury findings led to an arrest warrant issued for Brooks, who was apprehended at his New Jersey home in March.
What Omar Brooks told the grand jury was that his brother admitted that he shot Buchanan because he ripped him off, Bristol Township Detective Timothy Fuhrmann told the court.
Omar Brooks also turned over a letter to police that he said was written by Michael Brooks that mentioned “the” shooting. In January 2009, Omar Brooks helped police “interpret” some of the street slang and other confusing references in the letter, Fuhrmann said.
But Gamburg questioned that authenticity of the letter.
“You have no firsthand knowledge who wrote this letter, correct,” he asked Fuhrmann.