3256 N. Sixth Street
Nine years later, city firefighter Joe Finley still remembered.
Testifying at the trial of drug kingpin Kaboni Savage, 38, for murder in aid of racketeering, Finley told a jury what he was thinking as he entered a burning rowhouse in the 3200 block of North Sixth Street in the early hours of Oct. 9, 2004.
“This is what hell looks like,” the 28-year veteran firefighter recalled when he testified back in April. “Hell: That’s what it would remind you of. The whole room had this eerie glow to it.”
Six people — two women and four children — died in the blaze.
Today, Kidada Savage, 31, is awaiting sentencing for her part in the arson. Known as “Da” or “Li’l Sis” in the drug underworld her brother dominated, she was convicted of six counts of murder in aid of racketeering and related charges, and faces a mandatory life sentence. Her sentencing was set for Monday, but is now on hold while she seeks a new attorney. It’s the latest chapter in what has been described by law-enforcement as one of the most brutal, senseless examples of witness intimidation in Philly history.
Kaboni Savage — who, according to testimony and evidence, ordered the arson from prison, where he had been awaiting trial on drug-trafficking charges — had already been convicted of those six homicides and six others after a four-month trial. In May, he was given the first federal death sentence ever imposed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. He is appealing.
Savage, a former professional boxer, used fear, intimidation and murder to operate a multi-million-dollar North Philadelphia cocaine-distribution network, authorities said. Witness intimidation was one of the ways he maintained order and thwarted investigators. It was, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gallagher said, “a scorched-earth” approach.
The 2004 firebombing was a horrendous example. The rowhouse was the home of the mother of Eugene Coleman, an associate of Savage’s who had begun cooperating with authorities.
Finley made his way up the stairs at about 5 a.m. as fellow firefighters poured water on the blaze. He described going room to room, looking through a thermal-imaging camera. “Through the camera,” he said, “I could see a body of a woman.”
She was kneeling on the floor, with her arms and body over the bed — as if she were praying, prosecutors would note, or shielding someone. Finley reached for his flashlight. That’s when he saw a second victim. “I saw the leg of — a little baby leg sticking out from under the body of [the woman],” he said. “I had to make a choice then. It just looked like the woman was dead. … I scooped up the baby in my arms and then headed … out of the dwelling.”
The baby Finley carried out was Damir Jenkins, the 15-month-old son of Eugene Coleman, and he was already dead. The woman who had thrown her body over the baby was Tameka Nash, 34, Coleman’s cousin. In another bedroom, firefighters found the bodies of Marcella Coleman, the 54-year-old family matriarch; Khadijah Nash, 10, Tameka’s daughter; and two of Coleman’s cousins, Sean Rodriguez, 15, and Tajh Porchea, 12.
Prosecutors told the jury that those living in the rowhouse never had a chance to escape. In seconds, they said, the firebombing had turned their home into an inferno with temperatures exceeding 1,000 degrees. Finley told the same story. “If there is ever a hell,” he said, “this is what it looks like.”
A version of this article appeared on bigtrial.net. Contact George Anastasia at ten.lairtgib@egroeg.
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