Nobody at the Criminal Justice Center on Tuesday morning denied that Roysce “Yusef” Haynes strangled Atiya Perry inside the East Chelten Avenue efficiency apartment the couple shared in Sept. 2012.
The issue, as posed by the 29-year-old Germantown man’s defense attorneys during opening arguments in his homicide trial, was whether the crime rose to the level of a first-degree murder charge, or was actually a case of voluntary manslaughter.
A jury is expected to deliberate that question after testimony concludes sometime Wednesday in Judge Barbara McDermott’s courtroom.
The prosecution opens
Perry, 24, was seven weeks pregnant when her naked body was discovered under a blanket on the floor inside 850 E. Chelten Ave. on Sept. 10, 2012.
According to investigators and witness testimony, Haynes admitted that he’d strangled her during an argument the day before. (The pair considered themselves married, but the terms wife and girlfriend were used interchangeably in court.)
After Haynes declined a plea deal that would have leveled a third-degree murder charge — with a 30- to 60-year sentence — against him, Assistant District Attorney Kirk Hinrich argued that the defendant “willfully and deliberately” choked Perry.
As Hinrich laid out his case, Perry’s mother Patricia wiped tears from her eyes with a blue cloth.
Haynes — sporting a full beard and wearing a kufi, glasses and untucked dress shirt with a tie and pants — looked back at Patricia and several relatives numerous times throughout the day.
“This is a case of someone face-to-face, body-to-body [choking] the life out of another person until they’re no longer breathing or moving, until they die,” said Hinrich, adding that Haynes left Perry’s body on the ground “like a piece of trash.”
The defense responds
Wendy Ramos, who represents Haynes along with Connie Clark of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, told the jury that she disagreed with that assessment.
“He is absolutely innocent of first-degree murder,” Ramos said. “This is a case of voluntary manslaughter.”
She cited marital problems between the couple centered on family interference and trust issues which created a “marriage [that was] in trouble.”
There was also confusion about the pregnancy which stemmed from an apparent doctor’s appointment several days before Perry’s death that was never scheduled in Haynes’ estimation.
That sparked several days of “intense and passionate” fighting which escalated to the point that Perry pulled out a cannister of pepper spray. Crime-scene photographs featured holes and dents in the apartment’s walls.
“He grabbed her … and he inadvertently killed her,” said Ramos, adding that he performed CPR unsuccessfully. “He didn’t intend to kill his wife. There is no malice here.”
Her body was discovered on Sept. 10, 2012 when a pair of probation officers encountered him sitting on the stoop outside the apartment, acting peculiarly and evading both questions and eye contact.
“He was basically in a stupor. He couldn’t believe what happened,” Ramos asserted. “This is a case of provocation and intense passion.”
Without premeditation, the defense attorney said, the jury should find Haynes not guilty of first-degree murder and criminal homicide of an unborn child.
Called to the witness stand Tuesday morning were two police officers, a medical-examiner’s office investigator and two probation officers who were only identified as city employees since Haynes’ criminal record was not permitted into evidence.
(In a 2011 case, he pleaded guilty to simple assault and was given 18 months probation, according to court records that stated aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person charges were withdrawn. Seven years earlier, he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and was sentenced to up to 23 months incarceration and two years probation.)
From the 14th District police standpoint, Officer Jonathan Ransom was the first to arrive after what Hindrich called the “gruesome, terrible discovery” of Perry’s body next to a bloody towel on the ground.
Ransom testified that Haynes told him he’d “choked” Perry the previous afternoon.
When a crime-scene photograph was shown in court during that testimony, the victim’s mother quietly gasped, even though Perry’s body was redacted in the image.
Officer Richard Rodzwic also testified that Haynes confessed to the killing.
Harolyn Rodgers, the acting chief investigator for the city Medical Examiner’s Office, spoke about the forensics of a scene at which a copy of “Baby Talk” magazine and Perry’s prescription bottle of prenatal plus tablets, from a Chew Avenue Rite Aid, were found.
Probation officers Evan Mathis and Shanda Williams, who discovered Perry’s body and called 911 while cuffing Haynes and keeping him in the back of their car until police arrived, also testified.
Williams recounted seeing Haynes sitting outside the East Chelten Avenue residence but refusing to come over to the car when instructed to do so.
“He appeared to be under some kind of stress. I asked him what was wrong, and he said, ‘Nothing. I wouldn’t understand. Family stuff. You wouldn’t understand,'” Williams said. “I asked him, ‘Do I need to call police?’ and he nodded yes.”
That’s when she walked inside and found the body. When Haynes was placed in the car, “he started banging his head on the window, saying ‘she was cheating on me. That’s not my baby,'” Williams recounted.
For his part, Mathis noted several rips in the “overgarment” that Haynes wore, a fact that didn’t appear in his inital statement to police.
“He went from calm to progressively agitated,” Mathis said of Haynes.
It remained unclear Tuesday afternoon whether Haynes would testify as the lone defense witness.
Perry’s sister was sequestered as a possible witness who could speak to spending time with the deceased shortly before her death.
Hinrich said he expected to conclude testimony by the end of Tuesday’s proceedings. Closing arguments and the jury charge would then commence on Wednesday morning.