2007 triple homicide in Easton, Pennsylvania
|This article's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (November 2010)|
The 2007 triple homicide in Easton, Pennsylvania refers to the November 29, 2007 murders of Alphe Rene, Aleah Hamlin and Chanel Armour in Easton, a city in Northampton County, in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania.
Easton police allege Ali Elijah Davis and Lewis A. Gray, along with possibly two other unidentified men, broke into the trio's city apartment building and shot them to death in an execution-style fashion. The targets of the alleged homicide were Rene and Lakimdel Edward Spring, who escaped by jumping out of a second-floor window after hearing gunshots. The murders were reportedly in retaliation for previous gang-related murders in Jersey City and Newark, New Jersey; Davis and Rene were both members of the Bloods gang. Davis and Gray are scheduled to face trial in October, and prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.
November 29 shooting 
Alphe Rene, 21, and cousins Aleah Hamlin, 19, and Chanel Armour, 23, were shot to death in a third-floor apartment at 128 North 13th Street in Easton, a city in Northampton County, Pennsylvania. Officers from the Easton Police Department responded to a vague report of someone being hurt at the apartment and found the bodies of all three city residents, who were each shot several times in the head and torso. Authorities classified the attack as a "home-invasion-style murder;" Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli described it as a "execution-style ... gangland hit" believed to be part of "some kind of turf war in retaliation for some kind of actions." Rene was a known member of the Bloods gang. At least a few of the victims were sleeping in bed when the killers interrupted them. Easton police did not say whether anything was stolen from the apartment.
Lakimdel Edward Spring told police he was taking a shower inside the apartment when he heard the gunshots. Spring fled from the apartment by leaping through a second-floor window, then ran along 13th Street to the nearby Fuglee's Bar wearing only pants and a do-rag. Spring, who was winded and frightened, called police, who responded as other officers were investigating the deaths. Spring, who had an extensive criminal history in New Jersey, gave his name as Ron Speaks and a false birthday and acted uncooperatively to the police. He was charged with giving false identification to law enforcement. Spring asked the judge not to put him in jail because he was "scared the same thing that happened to these people is going to happen to me." He was committed to Northampton County Prison in lieu of $50,000 straight bail and placed in protective custody, but was not charged in connection with the murders.
Authorities said they were seeking three men in connection with the killing. Police believed the killers were from outside of the Easton area and came to the city specifically to kill these victims; police impounded a dark-colored Saturn sedan with New Jersey license plates from the 100 block of North 13th Street, in addition to other evidence. Armour had previously told police a man had threatened to kill her, and they provided his name to the police. The apartment building was rented by Kimberly Slack, who lived there with her two young daughters; all three were sleeping in the apartment at the time of the attack, but none were injured. Spring said he was splitting his time between Newark and the apartment. Neighbors said the victims moved into the apartment within the past week and "looked like decent people." Neighbors also said young people often congregated in the apartment building's front porch but that there was little police activity or problems there; Slack reportedly took in young people in need to try to help them.
The three deaths were Easton's third, fourth and fifth homicides in the year 2007, and they exacerbated already-existing concerns about safety in the city's West Ward neighborhood, where the killing took place. Local residents who had been planning since that summer to form a local chapter of the Guardian Angels, an international volunteer safety organization, were prompted by the murders to form their chapter sooner. The apartment building was across the street from the Easton Area Middle School. School district officials planned to relocate students from two area elementary schools to the middle school building the next school year while the other schools were being renovated; the plan was already unpopular among parents, and the shooting furthered their concerns. The district and police were both further criticized because the department did not notify the school about the shooting until after school officials noticed police cars around 7 a.m., after which it was too late to cancel school for the day. School and police officials both said the suspects were expected to be far from the area, and students were not believed to be in any danger. Easton police Captain Michael Vangelo said, "There was no safer place for the children that day, because there were about 20 cops in the area." Nevertheless, the incident prompted the two entities to review additional security measures and increase communication among each other. Parents were also disturbed that about one dozen students were left standing at a bus stop for 30 minutes at an intersection only a few hundred feet from the scene of the homicide, unaware that the bus route for that stop had been cancelled for the day.
Connection to other murders 
In December, Easton police said Easton's triple homicides may have been retaliation for other gang-related murders in New Jersey. James Singleton, a 21-year-old member of the Bloods, was found shot to death about 11:15 p.m. on November 27 in Jersey City's Arlington Park, an area known for gang activity. Essex County Prosecutor's Office officials said the murder was in retaliation for a November 27 double shooting in West Orange, New Jersey Singleton was believed to be responsible for, which killed Devin Rodriguez, another Bloods member from Jersey City, and wounded a 19-year-old man. Two hours before the fatal shooting, Rene was questioned by police at Arlington Park along with other unidentified Bloods members. The same day as the November 29 Easton killings, New Jersey authorities arrested Calvin Vallejo, 21, of Jersey City, on suspicion of killing Singleton. Police said Vallejo, a personal friend of Rodriguez, had ties to the Bloods, but it was unclear whether he knew Rene. All three of the Easton victims had ties to northern New Jersey; Rene had family in Irvington, and Hamlin and Armour lived in the Newark area before moving to Easton.
Spring pleaded guilty on January 22, 2008 to giving false idenitification to law enforcement. Spring said he gave police a fake name and birthday because he feared he would be killed if his name was made public. He told a judge, "A couple of friends of mine, they got murdered. I was running for my life. I ran to the bar and called the cops. I didn't want my name in the paper." Northampton County Judge Stephen G. Baratta sentenced Spring to 12 months time served in prison and released him, under the conditions he earn a high school equivalency diploma and make monthly contact with the county probation department. Spring, who had previously been in protective custody, said he planned to return to Newark because he was not safe in Easton. Spring requested police protection in New Jersey, but Baratta said New Jersey police would likely not agree to it because the grading of Spring's crime was too low; Easton police said it was Spring's decision to leave protective custody in Pennsylvania. Spring told detectives he came to Easton with another man named Tyrell "Hel Rel" Manning, who has not been charged by police in connection with the shootings.
Two murder suspects arrested 
Ali Elijah Davis, 20, of Freemansburg, Pennsylvania, and Lewis A. Gray, 31, of East Orange, New Jersey, were charged with the three murders. Gray was charged February 15 at an Essex County prison, where he was being held for trafficking cocaine and heroin in December 2007. Davis was arrested on March 24 after Easton police observed him walking near the city's Ninth and Wood streets and recognized him from a photo that was circulated to all patrol officers. Morganelli said at least one, possibly two other men were believed to be involved with the homicides, but had not yet been arrested. Morganelli said the murders were the result of "gang, robbery or related intertwined motives." Davis and Gray knew each other for months prior to the killings, but police have not said how they met or the nature of their association.
Gary was also known as "Monster" according to court papers and Davis, a standout basketball player at Liberty High School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 2006, was also known as "Lee-Hood." Morganelli also said he was withholding the names of witnesses who have cooperated in order to protect their safety and the integrity of the investigation. Davis and Gray were both charged with three counts of homicide, robbery and criminal conspiracy. Gray previously served time in New Jersey state prison from 1996 to 2000 for theft, burglary, aggravated assault and unlawfully possessing a weapon. A March 13 raid of a $1 million multi-state drug distribution ring run out of Easton's South Side helped provided corroborating information that contributed to Davis' and Gray's arrests, Morganelli said.
Davis was charged May 20 with another, unrelated Easton murder. On May 30, 2007, Davis allegedly fired four shots at Joey Bernard Mobley at close range, fatally striking him once in the heart, at the 500 block of Charles Street in city's South Side neighborhood. Mobley, a Brooklyn man nicknamed "Face", was a member of the Bloods, making him the second member of the Bloods Davis is accused of killing, along with Rene. Melanie Hansend, a friend of Mobley's told police prior to the shooting, said she picked him up in the city's West Ward neighborhood and brought him to the South Side, where he started joking around and brandishing a firearm wrapped in a red bandanna just before he was shot. While Mobley was playing with the gun, Davis and his friend, Easton resident Josh Oliver, were walking north on Charles Street when they saw Mobley, who was shouting at people in the area. Hansend said Mobley was not pointing the gun or threatening anybody when Davis allegedly opened fire. Davis allegedly reached around Oliver and began shooting at Mobley; witnesses told police Mobley did not return fire, but tried to block the shots with his arm, stumbled and fell to the ground.
Police did not identify a motive for the killing, but an unidentified witness cooperating with police said Davis "was bringing one of his pups home when he killed Face;" "pup" is a slang term for a gang rank. Davis, who was already being held in Northampton County Prison, was arraigned on charges for Mobley's murder before Northampton County Judge Dan Corpora and returned to prison without bail. at the time of the arraignment, Oliver, a former state wrestling championship runner-up at the Easton Area High School, was serving in Northampton County Prison on robbery charges from a Palmer Township home invasion, and his alleged role in a $1 million multi-state drug distribution ring. Police did not charge Oliver with the killing, but prosecutors did not discount the possibility of charging him later. Officers said other eyewitnesses besides Oliver identified Davis as the shooter, although they were hesitant to talk to police at first. Morganelli said Davis' alleged connection to four killings is the most he's seen since Martin Appel killed three people at a bank in East Allen Township, Pennsylvania in 1986.
On February 15, Gray told police he went to the 13th Street apartment only to assist in a robbery and had no prior knowledge of the murder plots. He also denied being in the apartments when the shots were fired. Gray claimed he was approached by Davis on November 28 in Irvington, New Jersey about a "money scheme," which is street slang for robbery. Davis, who is identified as "Lee-Hood" in court documents, told Gray he was going to rob people in Pennsylvania for $10,000, according to his statement. Gray claimed on November 29, he and two other individuals drove to Easton and parked in an alley before walking up to the rear of the apartment. Gray said Davis told him to "stand at the back door and make sure nobody runs out." Gray was armed with a shotgun which reportedly did not work. Gray claimed after he heard several gunshots, he ran back to their car and waited for Davis and the other two men; once they got inside the car, Davis told him things went badly. Gray was charged following his police interview. Easton police said Gray's statement corroborated with other parts of the investigation and was consistent with other statements. Police also determined through monitoring E-ZPass records that Davis traveled back and forth from New Jersey and Pennsylvania through the Interstate 78 toll plaza at Williams Township before and after the murders. Police have not identified the other two men or made any additional arrests besides Davis and Gray. Gray's attorney, James Burke, said the charges against his client should have been dismissed because there was no evidence he had knowledge about the murders.
Josh Oliver testimony 
On July 15, Josh Oliver testified that Davis told him he came to Easton specifically to kill Rene and Spring. According to Oliver, Davis said the murders were in retaliation for the murders of Singleton and a man named "Fredo" Harris. Harris was gunned down in Newark, New Jersey days before the three Easton killings. Easton police confirmed they were working with Newark police and the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office in connection with the Easton murders.
The 13th Street apartment was not Oliver's permanent residence, but he was staying there at the time of the killings; Stack babysat Oliver as a child, and she met Davis through Oliver. Oliver testified that on November 29, he was "hanging out" with Rene at the apartment and watching Law & Order when he received a call from Davis, asked him who was in the apartment with Oliver and told him to unlock the back door. When Oliver unlocked the door, a group of men were standing on the back porch, one of which aimed a handgun at him. According to court documents, the four men were Davis, Gray, a man identified as "Gangsta Red" and another named "T-Bone." Davis demanded Oliver give him a handgun Davis previous gave him before leaving Easton for New Jersey. Oliver said he remained in the apartment and, shortly after handed over the gun, he heard several gunshots and hid in a bathroom. Oliver then saw three men, whom he could not identify, run from the apartment. Prosecutors said the gunshots killed Rene, Hamlin and Armour. Oliver said he did not see Davis shoot anybody.
Oliver gave a statement to Easton police who responded to the scene, then arranged to meet with Davis during a phone call he made while sitting in the front seat of a police cruiser. Later, Oliver met Davis in the area of South 13th and Washington streets in the city and confronted him about the incident. When Oliver said his life was placed in danger, Davis insisted the shooters "knew what they were coming for," and insisted to Oliver, "I told them not to shoot you because you're my boy," Oliver testified. Oliver said Davis told him "Gangsta Red" (also known as "G-Red") shot Rene; according to Oliver, Davis told him, "(Gangsta Red) put the gun to Alphe's head...and he dropped to his knees." Oliver said he, Rene, Davis and "T-Bone" are members of the Bloods street gang; police have not identified "Gangsta Red" or "T-Bone," but said they have active leads and are pursuing cases against them. District Judge Gay Elwell sent all charges to court following the testimony. Oliver did not have a conversation with police about receiving protection in exchange for his testimony, but is committed in Northampton County Prison on unrelated drug charges.
Both men have been given tentative trial dates in October. On August 14, Northampton County prosecutors said they planned to seek the death penalty for Davis and Gray. Attorneys said if both men are found guilty of first-degree murder, the death penalty applies because the men murdered several people and killed while committing a robbery; they also cited Gray's significant history of felony convictions involving the use or threat of violence. The Lehigh Valley Committee Against State Killing, an anti-capital punishment organization, criticized the prosecutors, claiming the decision to seek the death penalty was for political gain. The Northampton County District Attorney's office announced in September they also plan to seek the death penalty in the case against Davis for killing Mobley. Attorneys said the decision was because Davis endangered many others in the area in addition to the victim, and insisted it had nothing to do with his role in the triple homicide. The trial for the Mobley killing is scheduled for April 13, 2009.
Notes and references 
- Buck, Michael. "Three killed in 'execution-style' shootings in Easton's West Ward." The Express-Times, November 30, 2008, section News, pg. A1.
- Buck, Michael. "Murder suspect denies role." The Express-Times, July 9, 2008, section News, pg. A1.
- Flanagan, Russ. "Murder witness released from jail." The Express-Times, January 23, 2008, section News, pg. A1.
- Buck, Michael and McEvoy, Colin. "Triple homicide stuns home's neighbors." The Express-Times, November 30, 2008, section News, pg. A1.
- McEvoy, Colin and Sieger, Edward. "Murders prompt interest in Angels." The Express-Times, December 11, 2008, section News, pg. A1.
- McEvoy, Colin. "School boosts security in response to slayings." The Express-Times, November 30, 2008, section News, pg. A1.
- McEvoy, Colin. "Leaders' goal: Make middle school safer." The Express-Times, December 26, 2008, section News, pg. A1.
- Buck, Michael. "Gang ties bind Easton, N.J. string of killings, police said." The Express-Times, December 5, 2007, section News, pg. A1.
- Buck, Michael. "Two men charged in November 29 murders in Easton apartment." The Express-Times, March 26, 2008, section News, pg. A1.
- Buck, Michael. "Killers had inside help, police say." The Express-Times, July 10, 2008, section News, pg. A1.
- Buck, Michael. "Man tied to 4 killings." The Express-Times, May 21, 2008, section News, pg. A1.
- Buck, Michael. "Witness claims murders were eye for an eye." The Express-Times, July 16, 2008, section News, pg. A1.
- MacDonald, Joe "Filing: Man had inside info before killings." The Morning Call, July 10, 2008, section Local, pg. B1.
- Barden, Tyra. "Men to face court in triple homicide." The Morning Call, July 16, 2008, section Local, pg. B1.
- "2 ordered to stand trial in triple homicide". WFTS-TV. 2008-07-15. Archived from the original on 2009-06-11. Retrieved 2009-06-09.
- Cassi, Sarah. "Murder trial a death-penalty case." The Express-Times, September 15, 2008, section News, pg. A1.
- Brill, Douglas B. "Death penalty under fire." The Express-Times, August 23, 2008, section News, pg. B1.
- Cassi, Sarah. "Prosecutors seek 2nd death penalty for suspects." The Express-Times, September 19, 2008, section News, pg. A1.