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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Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Jury: Philly man guilty of 2nd-degree murder in 2006 shooting death
Posted: Friday, December 12, 2014
A Bucks County jury Friday found a Philadelphia man guilty of second-degree murder in the 2006 death of a Bristol Township man, a murder that remained unsolved until two years ago.
In its decision — following four hours of deliberations — the jury of nine men and three women declined to find Ckaron Handy, 27, guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Kevin Battista in a drug-deal-turned-robbery gone bad.
The jury also found Handy guilty of two counts of robbery and possession of a weapon.
Bucks County Judge Wallace Bateman Jr. deferred sentencing 60 days for Handy, who faces life in prison, prosecutor Christopher Rees said following the verdict in the five-day trial.
“While we believe justice was served in this case, it’s not a cause for celebration,” Rees added.
Family and friends of Battista, 30, a father of two, wept after the verdicts were announced.
Deputy District Attorney Antonetta Stancu, who prosecuted with Rees, credited Bristol Township Detective Timothy Fuhrmann with bringing the case to fruition.
“He stuck with it for years and never gave up,” she said.
Authorities described the unsolved murder as an “extraordinarily” tough and long case to build against Handy. The case took eight years to get to trial.
Bristol Township police said that while Handy, a convicted drug dealer, was an early suspect in Battista’s murder, they didn’t have enough evidence — or witnesses — to connect him to the crime. The Bucks County District Attorney’s Office then took the case before a grand jury in 2009 and three years later, Handy was charged with murder and related charges.
As he was led out of the court room, Handy mouthed the word “appeal” to his mother in the audience. His attorneys Michael Goodwin and Charles Jonas confirmed afterward they will appeal.
Goodwin called the verdict a disappointment.
“It just seemed with all the profound flaws in their witnesses testimony they gave, I wouldn’t have been surprised at a not guilty verdict,” Goodwin said.
Witness credibility figured prominently in both the defense and prosecution’s closing arguments.
Goodwin’s lone defense witness Fuhrmann testified that he interviewed one-time key witness Kyle Page who provided information that Handy shot Battista.
Before a Bucks County grand jury in 2009 and again at a preliminary hearing last year, Page, who is Handy’s first cousin, claimed under oath that he stood 2 feet from Battista in December 2006 when he was killed and saw the .22 caliber revolver Handy used.
On Monday — the first day of jury selection — Page was formally charged with three counts of felony perjury after authorities learned in October that he was in Bucks County prison the day that Battista was murdered, something Fuhrmann also confirmed on the witness stand.
When prosecutor Stanscu asked Fuhrmann why the court hadn’t heard from Page during the trial, the detective’s response was blunt.
“Kyle Page is a liar.”
Page’s name came up again during closing arguments with Goodwin impressing on the jury that the three witnesses who testified that Handy was the shooter lied about Page being present during the crime.
Bristol Township police allege that Handy shot Battista, described as a recreational cocaine user, when he tried to buy $60 worth of the drug while looking for his longtime girlfriend in the Bloomsdale-Fleetwing section of Bristol Township, a one-time notorious drug market.
Goodwin emphasized that two of three witnesses who testified against Handy were convicted killers, and all three were admitted drug dealers who he described as “benefit seekers.” He also pointed out that none of the three testified seeing Handy shoot Battista, only that Handy was at Battista’s truck before the shooting.
Ckaron Handy (L) Kevin Battisa
Two witnesses also testified they didn’t recall seeing the third witness at the murder scene. A police report also put a fourth man, another drug dealer, in a fur-hooded jacket that witnesses testified the murderer wore, and Handy wearing a faux fur coat, Goodwin said.
The witness inconsistencies along with the questionable character of the witnesses, and Page’s arrest on perjury charges, Goodwin argued, provided enough reasonable doubt that someone else could have committed the murder.
But in his closing, Rees countered that the evidence — including witness testimony — showed clear proof that Handy was the murderer. He said witness Tiffany Calvanese, who was with Battista in the truck, provided a description of the shooter that matched Handy. Forensic evidence showed the angle of the bullet wound could only be caused by a left-handed shooter at least 6 feet tall, Rees added.
“Over three $20 bills, the defendant killed this man,” Rees said.
The witness testimony was consistent, he added. None claimed to see Handy pull the trigger, but each saw Handy at Battista’s truck moments before the shooting. All three testified the truck was in the same place. Two witnesses later alleged that Handy told them he killed Battista, Rees said.
Rees also argued if prosecutors secured the witnesses’ version of events with promises of favors in pending legal cases against them at the time, then why wouldn’t they take the additional step of saying they saw Handy shoot Battista?
Witness James Williams, who told police he took the .22 caliber murder weapon from Handy the night of the murder, admitted on the stand that he later used the same gun to kill Eric Doggett months later.
“The fact he admits to that underscores his credibility,” Rees said.
On the witness stand, Rees said, Williams testified that he still believes that Kyle Page was with Handy the night of the murder.
“He stuck to his story,” Rees added. “Consistency is credibility.”