PHILADELPHIA – A convicted drug kingpin and three other men were charged Wednesday with a dozen murders, including a row house arson that killed six people, four of them children, in retaliation for an informant's testimony.
Federal prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty against Kaboni Savage and co-defendants Lamont Lewis, Robert Merritt and Steven Northington. U.S. Attorney Laurie Magid said the four were part of "perhaps most violent drug gang ever seen in the city of Philadelphia" from 1997 to 2007.
"They murdered drug dealer rivals, they murdered witnesses in state court, witnesses in federal court. They murdered the family of witnesses, including children," Magid said.
Authorities allege that Kaboni Savage, 34, ordered a blaze in October 2004 to the North Philadelphia home of cocaine trafficker-turned-informant Eugene Coleman. Killed were Coleman's mother, his toddler son, his adult niece and three children. Prosecutors say Lewis and Merritt set the fire.
Prosecutors said Savage also threatened to kill other witnesses, prison staff and an FBI agent. In December 2004, prosecutors say he vowed to kill the children of cooperating witnesses in retaliation for his incarceration.
"Their kids got to pay, for making my kids cry," Savage is quoted in the federal indictment as saying. "I want to smack one of their four-year-old sons in the head with a bat. ... I have dreams about killing their kids. ... Killing their kids. Cutting their kids' heads off."
Attorney Christopher Warren, who represented Savage in the drug case, said his client has always denied involvement in the row house arson. He said Savage made the statements to prosecutors after having been held in solitary confinement for months with no contact with his family or the outside world.
"They pushed him to the brink of insanity and then they tapped his cell," Warren said. "If you treat a man like an animal, you shouldn't be surprised when he starts to sound like one."
Warren also said Savage denied threatening people to discourage testimony but "wanted them to stop falsely implicating him in things he did not do."
Savage and Northington, 37, were charged in the March 2004 murder of Tybius Flowers, who was scheduled to testify against Savage in a murder case. The indictment also charges the defendants with five murders of rival drug dealers, people involved in drug transactions and those believe to have killed members of the gang.
Savage is charged with 11 counts of murder in aid of racketeering activity, Lewis with seven counts, Merritt with six counts and Northington with two counts. All but Northington are also charged with conspiracy.
Savage is serving 30 years in prison on drug, money laundering and witness retaliation counts. Prosecutors say 28-year-old Merritt is in prison for a firearms offense, and Northington for a drug charge. Lewis, 32, is awaiting trial on a 2007 indictment.
Former attorneys for the other defendants did not immediately return calls seeking comment or said they were no longer representing them.
Coleman faced a mandatory 20-year term but was sentenced in March 2006 to about 3 1/2 years after testifying against Savage.