Kaboni Savage, 38, was convicted earlier this month of killing scorned friends, foes and strangers alike during a ruthless reign atop a North Philadelphia drug empire. He ordered seven of the slayings from prison, where he is already serving a 30-year drug sentence, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer said.
"He slaughtered and burned up children just to get back at a witness, and then he laughed about it," Troyer said as the sentencing phase of Savage's trial got underway.
The hearing is expected to take two weeks and be followed by another death-penalty hearing for co-defendant Steven Northington, who was convicted of two counts of murder. Savage's sister, Kidada, and another man were also convicted in the sweeping racketeering case, but they won't face the death penalty.
Defense lawyers have listed 25 mitigating factors in an effort to keep their client off of death row. They argue that Savage lost his father to cancer at age 13 and had a pair of unsavory surrogates step in as he navigated his teenage years in the drug-addled neighborhood. They also noted that Savage has never harmed another inmate or prison guard, or tried to escape.
However, prosecutors might counter that he never had to, given that he used prison pipes to communicate to friends inside and directed the 2004 hit on Eugene "Twin" Coleman's family in a prison phone call to his sister.
Coleman belonged to Savage's drug gang but was considered "soft," especially under police pressure. Savage had one of his earlier targets killed at Coleman's apartment, to entangle Coleman in the crime, authorities said. Coleman helped move the body and ended up pleading guilty to conspiracy.
Savage feared he was cooperating.
"That's all I dream about - killing rats," he told a girlfriend in one phone call taped from prison.
In others, Savage can frequently be heard threatening the families of informants.
"Their moms will pay. Their kids will pay. ... I'm dedicated to their death, man," Savage said, complaining that his arrest has hurt his own children.
The same jury that convicted Savage after a three-month trial must now weigh aggravating and mitigating factors under the somewhat complex death-penalty rules sketched out Tuesday by U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick, who presided over Savage's earlier drug trial.
Savage was 23 when he killed his first victim, a stranger who had bumped his car while trying to park in 1998. That sealed Savage's reputation in the neighborhood, Troyer said.
Defense lawyers note that Lamont Lewis, who burned down the Coleman home for Savage, received a life sentence in exchange for his testimony.
Troyer called the Coleman family deaths especially cruel and depraved. Coleman was in prison at the time, but the 5 a.m. fire killed his mother and 15-month-old son. Relative Tameka Nash, 34, was found dead kneeling over Coleman's son.
His mother, 54-year-old Marcella Coleman, apparently died trying to rescue two other boys; she was found on the floor by their bed.
"Think of the horror of what was going through her mind," Troyer said.