Facing prison after shooting conviction, one-time Philly hero tells his side of the story

 The section of the 1400 block of S. Allison St., where Marvin Brown was shot in June 2011. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

The section of the 1400 block of S. Allison St., where Marvin Brown was shot in June 2011. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

Agg. Assault Handgun. June 10, 2011. Time: 1:05 p.m. Location: 1444 S. Allison St.

“Police responded to above loc. for a report of a shooting. Upon arrival, police observ. an unk. blk. male on the highway suffering from several GSW [gunshot wounds]. Male was taken to H.U.P. All notifications were made. Male listed in critical cond. GSW to neck, chest (R), thigh.”

Those incident-report details were filled out by a police officer who responded to the scene that spring day. In a city where shootings are far from rare, they were sadly unremarkable.

Today, more than two years later, the victim of that Southwest Philly shooting remains bed-ridden.

His name is Marvin Brown. He can’t move from the shoulders down courtesy of the bullet that found his spine. He breathes through a tube and requires full-time home health care. His life was essentially taken from him that Friday afternoon.

Tomorrow, a Philadelphia man will be sentenced in Brown’s shooting.

The question being raised by that man, Edward Sheed Jr., is whether he is really a second innocent victim of the 2011 incident. Sheed and his family claim the Philadelphia police and district attorney’s office ignored evidence that he was nowhere near the shooting scene, and pressed for conviction of the wrong man.

The irony that makes this case remarkable is this: Sheed was once hailed as a hero by the same police department that now looks to send him to prison.

What happened

That day in 2011, “Mar” Brown was throwing dice with three friends when, according to his court testimony, an assailant approached, reached into his sweatpants pocket and took a black Nokia cell phone. When Brown demanded the phone back, the thief turned and fired.

“I seened the shooter,” he struggled in court to say when asked what he saw as he lay on the curb, cut down by bullets in broad daylight. That testimony came after he was wheeled into court on a stretcher this July.

And who was it that Brown identified? Edward “Doobie” Sheed, a 23-year-old man whose grandmother’s house sits just feet from where the shooting occurred, on a half burned-out block that dead ends at Chester Avenue.

Sheed now sits inside the walls of Curran Fromhold Correctional Facility. Tuesday, he’ll board a guarded bus for a trip to Common Please Judge Charles Cunningham’s courtroom in Center City.

“Doobie” maintains he was nowhere near the shooting. Still, after a three-day trial in which the prosecution was based almost entirely on a photo-lineup nod from a still-hospitalized victim and a “He shot me” courtroom declaration, Sheed was found guilty by a jury.

Tomorrow, he’ll find out how many more years he’ll lose from a lifetime during which many years were already stripped.

“Did I ever have a fair chance in life?” Sheed wrote in one of a series of letters with NewsWorks this summer. “HELL NO.”

The back story

If Edward “Doobie” Sheed’s name doesn’t ring a bell, his story may.

On Sept. 24, 2002, an 11-year-old boy left McMichael School and walked to the 16th Police District at 39th St. and Lancaster Ave. There, he told narcotics investigators how his afternoons after-school had been going.

His father would leave a halfway house in Center City, drive over to Mantua to pick up his young son and put him to work as his drug-dealing apprentice in Brewerytown. If Doobie resisted, he faced the threat of being thrown in the Schuylkill or getting beat with a belt-wrapped fist.

“What struck me is when he said, ‘Drug dealers get shot or go to jail. I don’t want to get shot or go to jail,'” Special Victims Unit Investigator William Brophy recalled in a Philadelphia Weekly story. “This is a bright-eyed, wide-smiled, smart, brave young boy. He wouldn’t strike you as any different than any other child — other than how he was used by his father in his father’s drug organization.”

That day, Sheed led undercover officers to the scene. After a sale, his dad was arrested. Later, he was sent back to prison with a 12-to-25-year sentence.

Some on the streets would call what Eddie did the act of a “rat.” But then-Mayor John Street said he was struck by the “incredible bravery and resolve beyond his young years.”

For a fleeting moment, Eddie Sheed Jr. was a civic hero.

But over the next four years, he was not treated like one.

Concerned by his home situation, the state shipped him off to placements in central Pennsylvania, Colorado and Texas.

They were group homes, and he was surrounded by some bad-seed youths. In those placements, he’d run away and gotten into countless scraps with kids. At times, the police have gotten involved. It wasn’t difficult to write him off as damaged goods.

“He’s confused, tired and scared. He wants to know what he’s doing surrounded by these crazy people,” his mother, Rhonda Overton, told me in 2007. “Yeah, he’s got an anger problem. Hell, I’m angry. But he didn’t have it until the system took him away. He was calm, but now he’s getting madder by the day.”

Doobie’s family tried for years to convince the Department of Human Services to let him come home, a battle during which they questioned where all the high-level supporters the boy once had had gone.

Finally, in 2007, at a welcome-home party on South Allison Street, the same block where Marvin Brown would be shot six years later, Sheed was asked how he felt: “I’m happy.”

Trouble readjusting

Both Sheed, who ended up enrolling at Bartram High, and his family now admit he had trouble readjusting to life in Southwest Philadelphia.

“When he came home, he was trying to fit in,” said his sister Rachonda Lewis, noting that he lacked fashion sense from all his years in placement, but had a kind heart. “My mom blames herself a lot.”

That’s clearly evident from a 2008 robbery case which led to his conviction and a year behind bars. He says he was a lookout but, as a lookout, he couldn’t deny involvement.

A free man in 2010, he said he was getting back on track. Handing out campaign literature for gubernatorial candidate Anthony Hardy Williams, he met Takeesha Day.

Sheed moved in with Day, whom he calls his wife, on Elmwood Avenue. That’s about a mile and a half from Allison Street.

His days would involve heading up to the Franklin Mills Mall area while driving Day to and from work. She said he was such a homebody that she had to shoo him outside sometimes.

“Since 2010, I was just trying to stay out of the way, start my life back over and get back on the right track,” Sheed said.

Sheed maintained, and Day confirmed, that he was at her place on Elmwood when the shots that wounded Brown rang out on Allison. Overton, living on Allison, said she heard the shots and hit the floor to avoid getting hit.

Sitting on the front porch when she shares those details, she motions about 10 feet away to where the victim’s body was found.

“Justice,” his mother told NewsWorks a couple weeks ago, “has failed him again.”

Arrest, trial and questions

“Information was developed with the help of Det. Sheridan #856. This information was that the male responsible for the shooting goes by the nick name of “Doobie” or “Dubby” and that he lives at 1438 S. Allison St. … This male was found to be the below suspect, Edward Sheed.

“On 6-17-11 the offender was arrested outside his residence for probation violations. … [The victim] is currently paralyzed from the shoulders down but was able to communicate that he was shot by the below suspect.” — Philadelphia Police Department Investigation Report, June 30, 2011

Sheed, still on probation for the robbery rap, had reportedly failed a drug test in April but police did nothing about that until they decided he was a suspect in the Brown shooting. (Attempts to reach Sheed’s former probation officer, with whom Sheed met several times after the drug-test results came back, were unsuccessful last week).

Sheed’s family argues that he was just a convenient fall guy for the police to nab, and that the evidence against him was very weak.

They point to medical reports that indicated the shooting victim had “no recollection of events that placed [him] in the hospital,” yet somehow was able to pick Sheed out of a photo lineup that same day.

Day says she was the only person she knew who called Sheed “Edward.” On Allison, he was known as Doobie. So, how, she asks, could Brown have named him as “Edward” without prompting?

Attempts to reach Brown’s father Marvin Taylor, who signed off on the photo-identification and interview-report notes on his son’s behalf, were unsuccessful for several weeks.

“If he’s an assassin, he wouldn’t have stayed around there,” Sheed’s sister maintained during an interview at her Southwest Philadelphia apartment. She was referring to the Allison Street property at which Sheed was arrested.

A witness denied

The victim and several police officers were the only witnesses presented in the case.

Sheed and his defenders question why a woman named Monica Hill wasn’t called to testify.

On the day of the shooting, police interviewed Hill, a 24-year-old woman who said she was a witness to the shooting. Earlier in the day, she said, police stopped her when she and the victim were playing dice on Allison Street.

Hill reported that someone told Brown that an “old head was spinning the block looking for you.”

She also said she was on the block when shots rang out, saw the “flashing light from the gun” and ducked behind a car, running off afterwards. When viewing the photo lineup with police, Hill answered “no” when asked if she saw Sheed at the scene, according to the police-interview report.

Though called to court as a prosecution witness, she never took the stand. Deemed a “hostile witness,” she did, however, sign a notarized affidavit shortly after the verdict.

“I saw Marvin Brown get shot on June 10, 2011 and the defendant Edward Sheed was not there,” it reads. “I was also denied the opportunity to take the stand on July 9, 2013, because the district attorney said that if I wasn’t going to give the testimony they wanted, they wouldn’t need me.”

Assistant District Attorney Morgan Model Vedejs said she would be willing to talk on-the-record about the case in-depth after Tuesday’s sentencing.

Sheed’s letters from jail

Sheed filed a motion for a new trial citing “prosecutorial misconduct” and improper rulings by Judge Cunningham.

Offered a deal before the trial started, Day said that Sheed responded, “Why take a deal if I didn’t do it?”

His court-appointed defense attorney, Danny Alvarez, is currently running against Seth Williams for district attorney. He did not respond to an interview request last week. Sheed maintained that he wanted to put Hill on the stand, but was told she couldn’t help the case.

In letters from CFCF since the conviction, he has said he fully expects to hear Cunningham deliver a lengthy sentence on Tuesday.

He questioned why the jury’s requests during deliberations to see preliminary-hearing testimony and Brown’s medical records was denied. He also maintained that 911 calls after the shooting describe the suspect as 6 feet tall. Sheed is 5-foot-7.

Here are Sheed’s responses to questions sent to him in written form:

Did he shoot Brown, who he’d seen in passing on his grandmother’s block before? “No.”

What would he have said on the stand? “That I was not there and that I don’t even know this guy. That the man that got shot did not get shot by me.”

Did he think he’s ever gotten a fair chance in life from his preteen years till now? “Ever since I was 11, my life has been hell. I’ve been in all types of placement for no reason. The city took me away from my family. S—, I missed my whole teenage life because my dad beat me to sell drugs. Sometimes, I wish I wouldn’t have told the police because all they did was make my life worse. They took me from my family for what? No one ever answered that question for me and it’s been 11 years.

“Then, about the time I came home in ’07, I don’t even know my family that well and they don’t even know me; sisters’ and brothers’ kids, they didn’t even wanna give me a hug. They thought I was a stranger and I kinda felt that way. Who wouldn’t after six years in locked-down placement on the other side of the world, away from home for doing something good I thought!!! But, I guess I did something wrong. What do you think?

“So to answer your question, did I ever have a fair chance in life? HELL NO.”

On his mother’s assertion that he has shooed drug dealers/loiterers away from his grandmother’s Allison Street stoop: “I don’t have a problem with them, just with what they do and I didn’t want any of that near my family. We’ve seen enough of that growing up and I didn’t want that for the little ones in my family, or for the little ones that lived on the block.

“So, that’s why I would ask them to show respect and, believe it or not, most of the guys around there respected what I said, so we all was kinda on even ground when it came to that. I never had no issues with that. That’s why I said I don’t not like the people, just what they do! And yes, you can kinda say it’s because what I’ve been through.”

What now?

Sheed concluded his last letter by saying he still didn’t know whether he would speak at his sentencing, which takes place in Courtroom 708 of the Criminal Justice Center on Tuesday morning.

Though they acknowledge the odds are markedly against him, neither Sheed’s mother nor sister, who rallied outside the DHS building in an effort to have him brought back from placement, have given up. Day, the love of Sheed’s life, hasn’t either.

“He was just doing what he was supposed to do. Picking me up at work. Getting my son to and from school,” Day said. “I don’t think he got a fair chance. It’s unfortuntate, what happened and justice has to be served, but Edward is not the one who committed this crime.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.