A man accused of gunning down an 11-year-old Philadelphia boy in March had been in court just two weeks earlier for charges of aggravated assault, but the district attorney’s office did nothing to keep that case going, according to court documents and legal experts.
Broad + Liberty previously reported that 19-year-old Khaleek Cooper-Baldwin had a case dismissed earlier that month because of what the court docket described as “lack of prosecution.”
Baldwin walked out of that courtroom a free man on March 9. On March 26, he would turn himself in to Philadelphia police after they named him as the chief suspect in the murder of 11-year-old Harley Belance.
But some former prosecutors from the Philadelphia DA’s office say a newly obtained court transcript of the hearing shows how little the prosecutor from DA Larry Krasner’s office did to keep the case alive.
The court docket for Baldwin’s original case shows he was charged with aggravated assault with attempts to cause serious bodily injury, as well as simple assault, and reckless endangerment. Those charges were filed Nov. 30 of 2020, and bail was set at $40,000.
The main witness against Baldwin did not appear at an initial hearing in February. And when the witness again failed to appear in the March 9th hearing, Baldwin’s attorneys asked that the case be dismissed.
The prosecutor did not request a third hearing.
“When I was in the DA’s office, you typically had three strikes before the case would be discharged for lack of prosecution,” said Lorainne Donnelly, who served over ten years at the Philadelphia’s DA’s office. “But in this transcript, the prosecutor was not ready to proceed at the second court listing and specifically told the Judge that the Commonwealth ‘did not have a motion,’ signaling to the Judge that she is not seeking a continuance for a third listing. Normally you have a motion for continuance for third listing and you would cite the seriousness of the crime — in this case aggravated assault — and whether you’ve had contact with the complainant in the past.”
Donnelly is a partisan backer of Carlos Vega, who is running to unseat Larry Krasner after just one term.
Other former prosecutors agree with Donnelly’s assessment.
“There’s no argument from the prosecutors; there’s no fight to keep the case alive,” Guy D’Andrea told Broad + Liberty. “There’s no recitation of why the victim’s not there, no ask to put the case on hold while the prosecutor is trying to reach out to the witness. And, so, it seemed like the prosecutor just rolled over and allowed this case to be thrown out.”
Requests for comment to DA Larry Krasner’s office were not returned.
D’Andrea said the DA’s office has numerous tools at its disposal to make sure a witness appears in court.
“I do not necessarily blame the assistant DA here, the blame lies with the administration of the DAs office,” D’Andrea added.
The Baldwin incident is emblematic of accusations that Krasner — who never previously worked as a district attorney — has had difficulties managing the large office.
“Krasner’s critics say turnover has damaged the office’s institutional knowledge and professionalism, created confusion, and left inexperienced attorneys with few places to turn for help when they face challenges,” a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer noted in 2019.
Broad + Liberty further reported that Krasner’s office was chided last summer by the Pennsylvania Superior Court for the number of requests for extensions to file briefs in cases, a different matter than seeking an extension after a witness has failed to appear as in the Baldwin case.
A 14-year-old was also shot in the same incident that killed Belance, but he survived.
As homicides have risen in Philadelphia this year, so too have the number of children shot or murdered. By mid-April, the Philadelphia Police Department was reporting at least 55 children had been shot. That’s slightly above the 2020 rate, when by August of that year 100 Philadelphia children had been shot. However, 2020 was unique because of the surge in homicides and for gun violence.
Currently, the city has seen 161 total homicides, a 34 percent increase over the 120 murders committed to the same point in 2020.
Voters will choose between Krasner and Vega in the primary election on May 18.
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.
(Reporter’s note: Several other media accounts refer to the alleged murderer as Kalif Cooper-Baldwin. Broad + Liberty is using the name and spelling as seen in the court filings.)