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Suspect held for trial in N. Philly carjacking that killed mother and three children [video]

 Terrence Moore, father of a 7-year-old killed at a North Philly fruit stand in July, sat through an emotional hearing about the incident that led to four deaths. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

Terrence Moore, father of a 7-year-old killed at a North Philly fruit stand in July, sat through an emotional hearing about the incident that led to four deaths. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

Waiting for the 23 bus at the corner of Germantown and Allegheny aves., Renee Cureton looked across the street and saw a woman and her two young sons setting up a stand to sell fruits and vegetables.

The driver of a passing vehicle stopped to find out how much the bananas cost that Friday morning in July.

Four for a dollar, seven-year-old Terrence Moore eagerly told the soon-to-be customer before making the day’s first sale in an effort to raise money to turn a nearby lot into a neighborhood playground.

“He had a big old smile on his face,” Cureton recalled of Moore, who’d also just made his final sale of the day.

Within minutes, Moore, two siblings, his mother and a family friend would be struck by an out-of-control SUV that had been carjacked.

Within minutes, the kid with a big old smile on his face would be dead. So would his brother, sister and, after clinging to life for nearly two weeks, his mother, too.

What led to this

Cornelius Crawford, 24, faced a preliminary hearing Tuesday in connection with the July 25 carjacking/hit-and-run that left four people dead and two other women hospitalized, one after being struck by, and another after being sexually assaulted inside, the stolen car.

According to police, prosecutors, victims and witnesses, Crawford and co-defendant Jonathan Rosa — who was not in court Tuesday — carjacked a 45-year-old real-estate agent near N. Sixth and Cumberland sts. that morning.

Forcing the woman to twice perform oral sex inside her own vehicle, the men allegedly drove aimlessly through North Philadelphia toward Germantown and Allegheny aves., where Crawford lost control of the SUV.

There, a tire blew out, sending the SUV careening onto the sidewalk in the area of the fruit stand. It struck Moore, his siblings Thomas Reed and Keiearra Williams, his mother Keisha Williams and family friend Thelma Brown.

Crawford and Rosa would run away from the area only to be apprehended by police after a days-long search.

Moore was declared dead at the scene. His 56-pound body had been crushed under the vehicle, causing a long list of injuries recorded on the Medical Examiner’s report that was read in open court.

His 10-year-old brother and 15-year-old sister would die at nearby hospitals within hours of the incident, both suffering similar injuries from blunt-force trauma.

His mother would cling to life for 13 days, but ultimately succumb to an array of injuries, including an amputated leg, at Temple University Hospital.

Brown would survive and, still confined to a wheelchair, testify at Tuesday’s preliminary hearing. Also testifying was the sexual-assault victim, whose name is being withheld by NewsWorks.

On the stand

After Assistant District Attorney Brendan O’Malley entered each victim’s autopsy results onto the record in Judge Patrick Dugan’s courtroom, he called six witnesses to the stand during the 90-minute hearing.

Officer Andrew Frysick of the 25th District testified that he arrived at the scene after being flagged down by witnesses and saw “four or five people laying down in the field, and four were unresponsive.”

He checked them each for a pulse and found only Keisha Williams had a slight one.

Next up was Cureton, who described a scene that quickly went from big-smile cute to unimaginable horror.

Sparks flying after the white Toyota 4Runner blew a tire drew her attention just before it “ran through the family.”

She testified that time slowed down as she watched the youngest victim go under the vehicle’s tire (“I knew he was dead already”), the two siblings get violently thrown to the side and the mother “get thrown 25 feet in the air.”

While Cureton didn’t see the suspects run away, she saw the real-estate agent get out of the car and “ball up into a knot” when she saw the victims’ bodies nearby.

The next witness was Thelma Brown, 69, who had pulled up to the corner with Keiearra Williams to help her neighbors with the fruit sale moments before tragedy descended on the scene.

She recalled a collision that would leave her with multiple leg injuries and fractures, and bruising near her heart.

Having spent five days hospitalized in the immediate aftermath, she is still confined to a wheelchair and has made several return trips to the hospital.

Officer Tremaine Young testified that he found a bloody T-shirt on nearby Camac Street, a garment that resident Shayna Bell said she saw a man take off himself and throw shortly after hearing the “big bang” a block away.

That blood tied Crawford to the carjacking, O’Malley said.

Sexual-assault victim testifies

The last witness to take the stand on Tuesday was the real-estate agent whose car had been used in the commission of these alleged crimes.

Crawford, the suspect who wore a short-sleeved shirt and Hawaiian-print shorts to court, did not look in her direction during the 20 minutes that she testified.

She recounted sitting in her car near N. Sixth and Cumberland sts. when a man later identified as Crawford knocked on the passenger-side glass and motioned for her to roll the windows down.

While she was distracted, the other suspect jumped into the driver’s-side backseat. The doors were unlocked as she’d turned the ignition off, enabling Crawford to get in the passenger seat, from which he ordered her to drive away while claiming he had a gun pointed at her under a cloth.

“Just go. Don’t make me repeat it, just do as I say,” the victim recounted of Crawford’s words. “Do you want to live or do you want to die?”

Crawford, she said, then punched her in the face four or five times as she drove to an abandoned block, where she was ordered to get in the backseat.

Rosa got behind the wheel as Crawford forced her to perform oral sex, she testified.

Since Rosa couldn’t drive the car effectively, he switched seats with Crawford. The woman was again ordered to perform oral sex as the carjacked vehicle approached Germantown and Allegheny aves.

The woman said that she did not report the sexual assault to detectives who initially came to interview her in the hospital.

“My co-worker and boss were there,” she said, with a Cantonese translator sitting nearby. “Chinese culture, I just kept it to myself.”

The next day, she said, she was told about the four other victims’ conditions by a detective who said, “Any detail you give us can help to catch these guys.” That’s when she told the full story.

On cross examination, though, defense attorney Charles Mirarchi questioned the victim about inconsistencies in her testimony and in interview reports with police.

She testified that “some of the words” in the report — specifically, when the report stated that she said she “tried to fight them off” — were not hers.

Mirarchi said after the hearing that Crawford denies sexually assaulting the victim in a vehicle where his fingerprints were found. A motion to have the sexual-assault charge dismissed was denied.

Crawford was held for court on murder, aggravated assault, sexual assault and a variety of other offenses.

Intense reaction

After the hearing, Terrence Moore’s namesake father railed against Crawford, urging for the death penalty (in a non-capital case) and decrying what the suspect allegedly did to the real-estate agent.

“I have a 2-year-old and 4-year-old that I have to stay strong for, who I have to be there for,” he said outside the courthouse. “I want the death penalty. … He shouldn’t have a lawyer.”

For his part, Mirarchi said a plea-bargain offer is “what we’re hoping for” but, in the face of overwhelming evidence against his client, “I doubt we’d be offered one.”

“He is extremely remorseful,” Mirarchi said of Crawford. “The testimony shows there’s something amiss with the case. He’s just trying to say that it didn’t happen the way she said it happened with regard to the sexual assault.”

For his part, O’Malley dismissed the implication that the victim “embellished something that is an absolutely horrific thing to speak about in public, like she was forced to do today.”

“This is a horrific, horrific, horrific situation that happened in this car,” he said. “She’s an innocent victim who is brutally assaulted, punched in the face multiple times, she’s sexually assaulted by two individuals. This is not something that she wanted to discuss ever.”

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