“Twenty-three years old and 44 priors.
There's no excuse for that,“ said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey. ..Of the 9,850 gunpoint robberies reported in the city in 2006 and 2007, only a quarter were brought to court, according to an Inquirer analysis. In the end, only two in 10 accused armed robbers were found guilty of armed robbery
. ..There's a law on the books that enhances the penalty when you commit a crime with a gun
. It's not enforced,“ noted Ramsey, referring to the state's mandatory minimum five-year sentence for brandishing a firearm in the commission of a felony.
“There's no disincentive to carry a gun,“ Ramsey said. “Why wouldn't you carry a gun?“
One result: Among the 10 largest cities in the nation, Philadelphians are the most likely to be robbed at gunpoint.
..Philadelphia has the nation's lowest conviction rate for felony crime. And among the four violent crimes - murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault - robbery was the most out of line with the national average.
In the 75 largest counties in the country, the conviction rate for robbery is 69 percent. In Philadelphia, it's 35 percent.
..Jennifer Mulholland, who was a bartender at Brian's Sports Bar in Frankford, got a taste of that.
Gassew drank there often, she said in an interview, and befriended her.
One night in May 2006, Gassew said good night and left. A short time later, a man wearing a mask burst into the bar with a gun in his hand and demanded that she empty the register.
Mulholland thought it was Gassew. “Quit playing,“ she told him.
“It's not a joke,“ the robber replied, pointing the silver gun at her head.
“I knew it was him,“ she recalled.
He grabbed her by the neck and told her to open the register.
She gave him the money.
Mulholland, whose father is a police sergeant, said she was prepared to testify.
“I never got a court notice,“ she said. ...Of robbery and aggravated-assault cases filed in 2006 and 2007 in Municipal Court, about half were immediately tossed or withdrawn - and never went to Common Pleas Court, where felonies are decided. ..Then began the real ordeal. She said she went to court many times.
She waited hours, only to sit in the hallway. The prosecutor warned her it would be difficult to coordinate the cases, given all the witnesses, so she tried to be patient.
But she felt uncomfortable in the courtroom, worried that Gassew's friends or family could see her.
Poe acknowledges she missed some court dates. She had to work, too, she said. Her friend's testimony in July 2008 was enough to keep the case alive.
Poe has not heard from prosecutors for months, but a few weeks ago, she got some news from a police officer friend that shocked her: Gassew had been shot by police after allegedly robbing several convenience stores. “I thought, 'That's impossible. He's in jail. How could you rob 45 people with a deadly weapon and still get out?' “ ..Gassew got out in October after his mother posted his bail, said his grandmother. Within a few days, police say, he picked up where he left off.
On Oct. 26, they say, Gassew walked into a store at 2634 Bridge St., beat two employees with a handgun, loaded a black bag with cigarettes, and took $630 from the cash register.
Two days later, he allegedly walked into a 7-Eleven store at 8101 Oxford Ave. in the Fox Chase section and smashed Joseph Massey in the face with a gun.
On his way out, police say, Gassew ran into two people and, wielding a black semiautomatic handgun, asked: “You don't see anything, right?“ before speeding off in a stolen 1993 Dodge truck.
In the meantime, Officer Christian Buckman, a 13-year veteran, heard a flash over the police radio and immediately spotted the truck from his cruiser.
Police said Gassew led Buckman on a high-speed chase that ended with his truck smashed into a tree on the 6000 block of Oxford Avenue.
Gassew ran west, down Benner Street and into a parking lot.
Buckman went after him and ordered Gassew to stop several times, according to a police report.
Gassew “turned to the officer with his hand in his hood and the officer fired several times,“ the arrest report states.Wounded, Gassew struggled against the officer as Buckman sought to subdue him.
A witness said she heard the officer screaming at the man to get down on the ground. Gassew was bent over by her car. She saw him get up and the officer fire again as he ran away. She called 911.
In the truck, police said they found a loaded .45-caliber Hi-Point, a cheap and popular gun.
Gassew was charged with robbing the two convenience stores, fleeing police, and stealing the truck.
Police say he was shot four times. He almost died, but doctors at Albert Einstein Medical Center brought him back. He lost his sight in one eye and almost lost his arm, his grandmother said. He is being held in the infirmary at the city Detention Center after failing to post $210,000 bail.
Gassew is expected to recover in time for his trial in May for the one remaining case left over from his 2007 robbery string.
Poe plans to be there.
“The entire system in Philadelphia is screwed up,“ she said. “I'm not scared. I'm tired of going to court.“