By: Joseph A. Slobodzian, philly.com
September 26, 2017
With evidence missing and the investigation tainted by the involvement of a detective who pleaded guilty to impeding justice, the District Attorney’s Office has withdrawn murder charges against a 28-year-old man in a 2011 shooting outside a North Philadelphia sports bar.
“Commonwealth motion to nol pros,” said Assistant District Attorney Alisa Shver, using the Latin legal term for withdrawing prosecution.
With those five words, the case against Dante Hill of North Philadelphia evaporated, giving Hill the first prospect of freedom since he was snatched from a Philadelphia courtroom and charged with the slaying of Raseen Wright, 34, of Logan. The prosecutor’s motion, granted Tuesday by Common Pleas Court Judge Steven R. Geroff, came two weeks after Shver asked for an 11th-hour delay of Hill’s murder trial to investigate alleged irregularities in the investigation raised by defense lawyer Michael J. Diamondstein.
Shver said after the brief hearing that “based on information that came to light, there was not sufficient evidence at this time to move forward.”
“It was the right thing to do,” Shver added.
The withdrawn charges are not the same as an acquittal. By withdrawing charges, the prosecutor could refile later if new evidence is found linking Hill to the Wright slaying. But given the litany of problems that doomed the case, plus a key witness who recanted his identification of Hill as the shooter and another witness who is a fugitive, the odds of that happening seem long.
Diamondstein called the prosecutor’s decision a “tremendous day, not only for Mr. Hill but for the entire Philadelphia justice system.”
“I have to thank such a conscientious and diligent prosecutor like Ms. Shver who looked at our investigation and did the right thing,” Diamondstein said.
Hill rose and shook Diamondstein’s hand before he was led out of court by sheriff’s deputies to return to the city prison system.
Diamondstein said Hill is awaiting sentencing Oct. 18 on his guilty plea to possessing marijuana while he was in prison awaiting trial for the Wright murder.
At the Sept. 13 hearing, it became clear that there were serious problems with the investigation that resulted in charges against Hill.
The homicide detective originally assigned to investigate the July 11, 2011, shooting of Wright was Ron Dove. Dove, now 45, was fired from the department in November 2013, and in April pleaded guilty to helping his girlfriend flee from arrest in the slaying of her former lover.
Another veteran homicide detective who helped with the investigation was Philip Nordo, who was suspended with intent to dismiss last month amid federal and local probes of relationships he developed with witnesses and informants.
After a new search of the case files, Shver conceded that the original audio recording of the 911 call after Wright’s shooting has disappeared. So has paperwork involving witness interviews and cellphones purportedly seized during the investigation.
Wright was found shot in the head and back shortly after 2 a.m. near the now-shuttered Coo’s Sports Bar in the 800 block of North Broad Street. Another man, Byron Davis, 27, was wounded in the leg.
Hill was not charged with the slaying until Aug. 5, 2015, when he was arrested as he waited in Courtroom 603 of the Criminal Justice Center.
Shver said Hill was arrested after an unidentified witness told detectives he was the gunman who killed Wright and wounded Davis.
Although Hill has been arrested 12 times since 2006, court records show just two convictions: a first offense in 2009 for marijuana and a guilty plea to driving under the influence.
In addition to the problems with the investigation, Shver said at the earlier hearing that the witness who incriminated Hill has recanted. Surveillance video from inside and outside Coo’s allegedly shows Hill at the scene, although Shver says it is blurry.
Davis, purportedly Hill’s friend and accomplice, is now a fugitive, Shver said. Davis has not been charged in the Wright killing.