Cold case no more: 4 convicted in 2011 Philly murder

The family of Kevin Drinks, who was murdered in 2011, speaks at a press event announcing the convictions of four men who were found guilty of his murder.

The family of Kevin Drinks, who was murdered in 2011, speaks at a press event announcing the convictions of four men who were found guilty of his murder. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

More than a decade after the death of Kevin Drinks, four men have been convicted for his murder in what prosecutors say was a case of mistaken identity.

Drinks was killed in 2011 after being mistaken for a witness expected to testify in a criminal case.

Chad Rannels, Michael Blackston, Semaj Armstead and Rashawn Combs were all found guilty of murder, conspiracy, and related charges in the December 10, 2011 killing.

On Monday morning, Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner spoke near the spot where Drinks was killed near Broad St. and Girard Ave. in North Philadelphia. Krasner said Drinks was under surveillance for a full day after he was improperly believed to be the person testifying in a Philadelphia trial, even though he had nothing to do with the case.

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“He was killed in a killing of mistaken identity. There was an assassination of the person they believed to be a witness for the purpose of silencing that witness,” Krasner said.

Drinks was mistaken as a witness in the murder of Kristen Freeman, which was what the killers thought when they pulled the trigger.

The case went unsolved until 2017, when a Philadelphia police detective was investigating a separate case and listening to coded conversations from the prison, which implicated four people in the killing of Drinks.

“What they were discussing over and over again was the description of the witness, where he works, what kind of car he drives, and formulating a plot to kill him, said Assistant DA Ashley Toczylowski. “That plot came to fruition in December.”

Keena Drinks, Kevin’s widow, admitted it was tough waiting and watching the case progress.

“Kevin Drinks was a hard-working innocent citizen shot and killed on the streets of Philadelphia through gun violence, mistaken identity,” she said. “First you cry, then you want to know why.”

Keena Drinks praised the DAs assigned to the case, who she said cared about the loss of her husband in a senseless act of violence. She said over the years it was difficult believing that her husband’s killers would be found and convicted.

Keena Drinks, widow of Kevin Drinks, holds photos of the two of them from their wedding day.
Keena Drinks, widow of Kevin Drinks, holds photos of the two of them from their wedding day at a press event announcing the convictions of Kevin Drinks’ murderers on April 4, 2022. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

”I did lose a little bit of faith, but I still fought to find out what happened. I lost a little bit of faith in the police system and the justice system.”

Drinks urged other people in similar situations to press police and prosecutors about their cold cases because they can be solved. She admitted she was annoying to police at times, but added that police gave her the respect to call her when they made the arrests. Drinks said she will now become an advocate for victims of crime and help others suffering the same fate as she did, as an example of how cold cases can be solved.

Drinks and her friends and relatives removed pins they wore for a decade to remember the homicide. They didn’t need them anymore, they said, because justice has been done in the case.

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Rannels, Blackston, and Armstead have all been sentenced to life in prison without parole. Combs, who was convicted of third degree murder, likely faces at least 30 years behind bars. His sentencing is scheduled for June 29.

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