Tense, Revealing and Contradictory: Askia Sabur’s Trial Begins

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Opening statements from the prosecutor and defense team in the trial of Askia Sabur began yesterday afternoon. Testimony from Philadelphia police officer Danyul Williams was also heard. Cross-examination of Williams was at times tense, revelatory and contradictory.

Sabur has rejected a plea deal offered by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office which would have him serve three to 12 months instead of a much lengthier sentence possibly totaling over a decade in prison, if found guilty.

Judge Roger Gordon, the fifth judge involved in Sabur’s case since his 2010 arrest and pre-trial detention, told potential jurors earlier this week that the trial could last at least three days.

The controversial video depicting Officer Jimmy Leocal beating Sabur during the September 3rd, 2010 incident in West Philadelphia, played by the prosecutor and defense numerous times, was the centerpiece through much of yesterday’s proceedings.

Assistant District Attorney Carolyn DeLaurentis, a relative newcomer to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office – and the second prosecutor assigned to Sabur’s case since 2010 – portrayed Sabur as unresponsive to Williams’ order to produce identification when the two officers arrived, and which the prosecutor says justified a “Terry stop” in which a temporary detention is used to determine if a suspect is carrying a weapon and might pose an immediate threat to officers.

Sabur’s defense team, which includes Larry Krasner, Evan Hughes and Marni Jo Snyder, presented a different interpretation of events to the jury: Williams and his partner Jimmy Leocal allegedly pulled up to the scene at Allison Street and Lansdowne Avenue and told pedestrians to disburse by saying “Get the fuck off my corner.”

This account of the night’s events, per Krasner, comes from Sean Merrit, a cousin of Sabur’s who witnessed the incident and is expected to testify, according to a witness list compiled by The Declaration during jury selection earlier this week.

The video appeared to strengthen the defense team’s case significantly more than it did for DeLaurentis. Towards the end of cross-examination, Krasner was able to show that contrary to the officer’s testimony, Sabur never seemed to come into possession of Williams’ baton and did not appear to be resisting arrest, one of several charges with which Sabur was sentenced.

Additionally, inconsistent testimony during a particularly strained cross-examination of the officer revealed that the location of an alleged bite mark on Williams’ body changed at least four times, according to a number of written statements – most notably after the video of Sabur’s arrest was posted on YouTube four days after the incident – implying that the officer viewed the video and was able to alter statements in an attempt to create a plausible scenario for future legal scrutiny.

Askia Sabur’s trial is scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. at the Criminal Justice Center, room 908. Stay tuned for additional coverage throughout the week.

Max McCauley from the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University contributed to this report.

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