Gunmen nabbed in Piazza slayings

July 30, 2009 6:43:13 PM PDT
Two suspected gunmen were charged Thursday in the slayings of a nightclub party planner and a friend in the hallway of an upscale Philadelphia apartment complex. Antonio Wright, 28, and Donnell Murchison, 33, are being held without bail on conspiracy murder charges, police said. It was not clear if they had lawyers.

Police already have a third suspected gunman in custody, along with the alleged mastermind of what they believe is a drug robbery gone bad.

Rian Thal, 40, was gunned down June 27 just steps from her apartment, along with Timothy Gilmore, a 41-year-old Ohio trucker who may have started a fight with the gunmen, Philadelphia Homicide Capt. James Clark said.

Police found $100,000 and nearly 9 pounds of cocaine in Thal's apartment, which may be the only goods left behind by an unidentified man who stepped over the bodies as he left that night with a large duffel bag.

"We can only surmise what was in it. But I would assume it was probably drugs and money," Clark said Thursday. "I think he took more than he left."

The man seen on the building's surveillance tape with the duffel is not charged in the case, although police say they know who he is. He may have simply spotted an opportunity when he heard the gunshots, police said.

In the wake of the violent deaths, friends are no doubt grappling with the question of just who Thal was.

A former bartender, she had something of a high profile on the club scene, throwing parties that attracted professional athletes, rappers and other local celebrities. She had a few relatively minor drug arrests in her background, but friends described her as a hard worker who rarely drank.

"People around us live in the fast lane; we don't live in the fast lane," fellow party planner Jennifer George, 32, said in the July 9 edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer. "She was in these clubs because she was working."

Thal was paying more than $1,700 a month for the two-bedroom apartment at the Piazza at Schmidts, a new complex on the fringe of downtown Philadelphia, on the site of the former Schmidts brewery. Police doubt she made all her money planning parties.

"She was heavily involved (in the drug trade)," said Clark, whose detectives have arrested six people in the case and expect to charge several others.

The alleged mastermind, Keith Epps, 41, is seen on security footage entering the building with a female resident at about 4 a.m., and in a suspected mix-up, he allegedly broke down the door of Apt. 617. Thal lived in Apt. 717.

The female resident, Katoya Smith, is seen on tape later that day letting in the suspected gunmen, including Wright and Murchison.

Epps' lawyer, Christopher Warren, complains that his client will have been held for more than two months by the time of the scheduled Sept. 23 preliminary hearing. Prosecutors successfully sought a delay while they round up suspects in what they call a complex case.

"As far as I can tell, they've got no forensic evidence, no fingerprint on the door, no DNA, nothing," Warren said. "All they've got is him and another guy getting off at the sixth floor."

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