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, October 4, 2012
DA announces arrest in 2006 murder of Bristol Township man
Posted: Tuesday, October 2, 2012
The first time Kevin Battista visited the once notorious drug markets of Bristol Township’s Bloomsdale section looking to score $60 worth of powder cocaine, he was shot to death in a robbery attempt, the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office said.
Ckaron Handy (left) and Kevin Battista
Within weeks, Bristol Township police say they had a suspect — a convicted Philadelphia drug dealer named Ckaron Handy — but they didn’t have enough evidence to connect him to the crime.
For more than five years, Battista’s murder — one of a half-dozen that occurred in the neighborhood between 2006 and 2007 — went unsolved.
Until Monday. That’s when police and prosecutors announced at a news conference that they had filed an arrest warrant for Handy, 24, charging him with murder, robbery and related offenses. The suspect turned 19 two days after police say he shot Battista to death in December 2006.
As it turned out, Battista’s case had connections with at least two other formerly unsolved murders that occurred around the same time in the Bloomsdale-Fleetwing area.
Handy is in federal custody, where he has been since last October while awaiting trial scheduled for next week on an unrelated federal gun possession charge, prosecutors said.
Only one of the 2006-2007 murders — Jimmy Dennis Moore, 19, of Bristol Township — remains unsolved.
“We just kept chipping away,” Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler said during the Monday morning news conference at the Bristol Township municipal building to announce the charges. “You’ve got a much safer community these days than it was back then,” Heckler said.
Recently, the township installed 20 video cameras in the Bloomsdale neighborhood which has cut crime in half since March, police Chief James McAndrews added.
Battista’s is the second unsolved murder in which Bristol Township has made an arrest this year. In March, police arrested Michael “Pooh” Brooks, 27, of Willingboro, N.J., in the June 2007 murder of Daniel Buchanan, 33, of Bristol Township.
During the investigation, police learned that witnesses and players in the Buchanan murder, and the 2007 murder of Trenton resident Eric Doggett, were also connected with the Battista case. The three cases ended up with arrests after going before the Bucks County Grand Jury, where the connections were revealed, prosecutors said.
Battista, 30, who lived in the Appletree section of Levittown in the township, was found shot in the 5800 block of Fleetwing Drive shortly before 2:30 a.m. Dec. 7, 2006. Battista was a machinist who worked 12 hours a day to support his family, including two sons ages 6 and 9 at the time.
Bucks County prosecutor Jennifer Schorn described Battista as a recreational cocaine user who was in the neighborhood with a female friend looking to buy powdered cocaine, as well as looking for his longtime girlfriend and mother of his sons, who he thought he saw in the Bloomsdale neighborhood, according to a probable cause affidavit in the case.
After Battista failed to find his girlfriend, he turned his attention to scoring cocaine, police said.
But none of the street dealers would sell to him because they didn’t recognize Battista as a regular customer in the neighborhood. He also asked for powdered cocaine, not crack cocaine which was what was commonly sold in Bloomsdale, police said.
Those two things made the dealers think Battista was an undercover cop, according to a family member of Handy, who spoke with police, according to the affidavit.
Police say that Battista twice circled the block in his red pickup truck, when he saw five men on the corner of Airacobra and Mustang streets and stopped to ask if they had cocaine. Handy was one of the two men who approached the vehicle.
They asked Battista how much he wanted. Battista replied he had $60.
That is when police say Handy pulled out a gun and demanded the money.
“Are you kidding me?” Battista replied, according to court documents.
Handy then started counting to three, police said.
The woman passenger in the pickup told police that Battista put the truck in drive and pulled away slowly. As he took his foot off the brake, two or three shots were fired.
A wounded Battista — who was still holding the $60 in his hand — accelerated the truck. The woman told police that she ducked under the dashboard, according to court records.
Battista kept driving but eventually slumped on top of the woman passenger, police said. The woman tried to steer the truck but it hit a parked car.
The woman said she checked for a pulse and Battista was still alive but he was making choking noises. He was taken to Frankford Hospital, now Aria Health’s Torresdale campus in Philadelphia, where he died of the gunshot wound to the chest, according to an autopsy.
Less than a year after Battista’s murder, Handy was arrested on an unrelated drug charge and sentenced to state prison, where he remained until 2011. A few months after he was paroled, Handy was arrested on the federal firearms charge in Bristol Township, police said.
While police say there were witnesses to the shooting, as often happens in the neighborhood, they refused to come forward. In 2009, the Bucks County DA’s office took the case before a Bucks County grand jury to compel witnesses to testify. The jurors indicted Handy in 2010, but the presentment was not unsealed and filed until Monday for strategic reasons, according to the DA’s office.
Among those who testified before the grand jury that Handy was the gunman were witnesses in both the Buchanan and Doggett murders, prosecutors said.
Those witnesses including Omar Brooks — brother of accused Buchanan murderer Michael “Pooh” Brooks — and James Williams, 24, who pleaded guilty last November to voluntary manslaughter in connection with the April 27, 2007, murder of Doggett. Both men testified they were with Handy the night of Battista’s murder, according to court documents.
Omar Brooks told the grand jury that he was standing about 20 yards from Battista’s pickup truck when he was shot. After the shooting when Brooks caught up with Handy, he asked him why he was acting nervous.
“I just shot the dude in the truck,” Brooks said Handy responded, according to the affidavit.
Michael Brooks also was interviewed and testified that the day of the shooting James Williams and his brother Omar came to him worried that police would think they were involved in the Battista murder because they were nearby.
Brooks said that Omar told him he was there when the shooting happened and Handy might have “tried to rob the guy,” according to court documents.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: jciavaglia@phillyBurbs.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia