Trial begins in Philly officer's slaying

June 29, 2010 3:21:55 PM PDT
Two men accused of participating in a bank robbery that led to the shooting of a Philadelphia police sergeant shared the intent to kill and can be convicted of first-degree murder even if neither pulled the trigger, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.

Eric Floyd, 35, and Levon Warner, 41, are charged with murder and other counts in the May 2008 death of Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski. The alleged shooter, Howard Cain, was killed by police as the robbers fled.

"You don't have to pull the trigger," Assistant District Attorney Jude Conroy told the jury in his opening statement before a packed courtroom. "This is a specific and deliberate intentional killing."

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Floyd, Warner and Cain were fleeing in a Jeep and heading to a second getaway car with Liczbinski in pursuit just before the shooting, Conroy said.

"Somebody in that car said 'Bang him! Bang him!"' Conroy said. Floyd was driving and Warner handed Cain the high-powered rifle when Cain asked for it, the prosecutor said.

As the 39-year-old Liczbinski got out of his patrol car, Conroy said, Cain got out and shot him several times at close range.

The veteran officer "never had a chance," said Conroy, who at one point laid down on the ground to show how the shooting happened. Liczbinski was shot numerous times in the arm and torso and died a short time later.

Defense attorneys beseeched jurors to listen to all the testimony and be dispassionate about the emotional case, which brought to the courtroom dozens of police officers and Liczbinski's widow and children, who were brought to tears by Conroy's descriptions.

Conroy told the jury of a long-planned robbery that included efforts to scope out the supermarket bank branch, the violent theft of a high-powered rifle, the theft of a getaway vehicle and Warner's acquisition of his mother's minivan for a second getaway car. Floyd and Warner allegedly served as lookouts during the robbery.

Warner was arrested on the day of the robbery. Police responding to a tip captured Floyd in an abandoned rowhouse several days later.

Gary Server, Warner's attorney, said there are evidence contradictions that need to be resolved and urged jurors to pay close attention to the testimony. He also stressed the importance of his client not being the shooter.

Warner watched the proceedings stoically from the defense table, wearing a dark suit and dark eyeglasses. Floyd is watching from another room after being removed from the courtroom earlier this month for punching one of his attorneys.

Earl Kauffman, an attorney for Floyd, said in his opening statement that his client lacked the specific intent to kill and could only be guilty of second-degree murder, which isn't a capital offense.

"You're not going to hear anything about Eric Floyd shooting anybody or killing anybody," Kauffman said, adding that he has also expressed remorse for the fact that Liczbinski was killed. "Eric Floyd is the driver and that's all."

The trial is expected to last four to six weeks.