The suspect in custody for the Friday murder of an 11-year-old Philadelphia boy was arrested last November on a number of violent charges, but his case was ultimately dismissed for “lack of prosecution” from the district attorney’s office.
Khaleek Cooper-Baldwin, 19 years old, turned himself in to police Wednesday night after cops had said he was the prime suspect in the murder of 11-year-old Harley Belance.
Court records show Baldwin was arraigned in November of last year on charges of aggravated assault, simple assault, and reckless endangerment. All the charges were dismissed on March 9, however, because of a lack of prosecution.
Belance was out riding on a scooter with a 14-year-old friend in the 1500 block of McKinley Street late Friday evening when he was shot in the neck. The 14-year-old friend was shot twice but survived.
“Police said it’s unclear if Belance and his friend were the intended targets of this shooting,” a report from ABC6 noted.
Belance is one of the youngest homicide victims this year. According to the Philadelphia crime tracking website, homicides are up 25 percent when compared to the same time last year. The city has already counted 120 homicides in just the first 90 days of the year.
Belance’s homicide, and the dismissal of older charges against the main suspect come as District Attorney Larry Krasner has begun to take increasing criticism for the citywide rise in violent crime.
A request for comment to Krasner’s office was not immediately returned.
Guy D’Andrea, a former homicide prosecutor in the Philadelphia DA’s office, says a dismissal for lack of prosecution (DLOP) at the preliminary hearing stage can happen for a number of reasons. Generally speaking, a DLOP happens after the prosecution has failed after three court listings to present evidence that shows it is more likely than not that a crime was committed and that the defendant committed the crimes. Typically, a case is DLOP’ed if the district attorney’s office has failed to produce or secure the necessary witnesses to testify at the preliminary hearing.
But he also pointed out that according to the court records, the judge had given one continuance to the defense after Baldwin was late to his preliminary hearing in February, which should have given the DAO more time.
“The very first time the case would have been ready for a preliminary hearing was on March 9th. So, the first time that the Commonwealth would have been in a position to put the preliminary hearing on, apparently based on the docket, they weren’t ready,” D’Andrea said.
“That’s what ‘lack of prosecution means’ and the case was dismissed. And so I — without seeing the transcript — I don’t know how seriously the DA fought to keep the case active, but an aggravated assault case after one time that the prosecution is not ready, should never be thrown out,” D’Andrea continued. “In fact, the same judge gave [the defendant] a second chance, right? They gave them another chance at being present and on time. Either way, reading this docket is very troubling and the public should be concerned.”
Krasner ran in 2017 on a promise “to end the failed tough-on-crime policies of the past,” according to his campaign website.
Part of that pledge included reducing the number of persons sent to the county jail. His campaign website also boasts that “The county jail population has decreased by 40% and this summer fell to its lowest level since 1985.”
His critics, like challenger in the upcoming Democratic primary race for DA Carlos Vega, have said Krasner’s decarceration policies shoulder much of the blame for the rise in homicides.
“I can’t sit back and let this happen because I live in this city,” Vega told Billy Penn earlier this month. “I’m very concerned about my children.”
The Philadelphia Democratic Party central committee declined to endorse Krasner for the upcoming primary in May.
“The kids are not safe, the seniors are not safe,” one party official told Broad + Liberty. “I don’t feel safe letting my kid go down to the 7-11 to get a tank of gas. [Krasner] will try to make this about race, but this is about people’s lives. No accountability, no credibility. Being a DA, you don’t get to just turn your phone off at night. It’s 24-7, 365.”
Pennsylvania Superior Court rebuked Krasner’s office last year for case management and case delays. As Broad + Liberty previously reported, the court wrote a letter to Krasner’s office explaining that a surge of requests for deadline extensions to file briefs had grown far too large.
“[T]hese numbers demonstrate not only an unacceptably high number of extension requests, but also a concerning trend toward repeated requests on the same cases,” the court’s letter said.
Krasner’s overall policies for prosecuting gun-related crimes have come under scrutiny recently as well.
“As Philadelphia’s gun violence has surged to unprecedented heights, two troubling trends have quietly kept building: Thousands more people are being arrested for carrying guns illegally. But their chances of being convicted in court have fallen by nearly a quarter,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported this week.
UPDATE: This article was modified after its initial publication to include comments and thoughts from Guy D’Andrea.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at tshepherd at broadandliberty.com, or use his encrypted email at shepherdreports at protonmail.com.