Alleged Germantown firebomber held for trial

 This Germantown front porch was where one of the firebombings took place over a five-week span in 2014 on East Coulter St. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

This Germantown front porch was where one of the firebombings took place over a five-week span in 2014 on East Coulter St. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

The text messages were sent from “fictitious” phone numbers and decidedly menacing.

“It’s burning. I swear on my life,” read one.

“All ya’ll dead tonight,” read another.

Problem was, the person on the recieving end, Janika Franklin, wasn’t at the row home she shared with family. Her brother would have to investigate.

There, sitting on the back porch of the East Germantown property, was a Molotov cocktail and a charred, sooty storm door.

No sign of flames, but plenty of confusion.

On Monday, Leonard Monroe was held for trial in connection to the Nov. 9 incident, one of three alleged firebombings that unfolded on the unit block of East Coulter Street over a roughly five-week span last year.

Detective Steven Parkinson testified that Monroe, 24, was arrested in mid-December after investigators connected his cellphone — a black Samsung Galaxy — to those threatening texts sent to Franklin’s phone starting around 1 a.m.

Contacting Pinger, the California-based company behind a free mobile app, was key.

After registering, users can send text messages from their phone under the guise of a third party number provided by the app.

Parkinson said his conversations got him the serial number of the cell phone behind the text messages sent to Franklin. He later matched it to Monroe’s phone during an interview.

“It couldn’t have come from any other phone,” said Parkinson.

Monroe is charged with aggravated assault, arson, stalking and related offenses. He’s scheduled to be arraigned March 21. A trial is likely several months away.

Afterwards, defense attorney Geoffrey Kilroy said the Commonwealth’s case is a little thin.

“It’s my understanding that there are a lot of letters that have been written to a lot of people in the neighborhood saying that there are people that are setting my client up to take the fall for this for whatever reason,” said Kilroy.

“I’m not exactly convinced yet that the technology has not been manipulated to make it look my client was the one that sent those text messages.”

A neighborhood “squabble” between Franklin and a teenage neighbor was discussed during Monday’s hearing.

Parkinson said the neighbor was initially the investigation’s primary target.

Assistant District Attorney Jessalyn Gillum said her office remains optimistic about getting a conviction.

“This investigation has been pretty thorough. We’re pretty confident in moving forward,” said Gillum.

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