EASTON, Pa. - Citing alleged ties to a local gang and an ongoing homicide investigation, a Northampton County judge declined to lower the bail for a Freemansburg man accused in a July 5 robbery and assault.
Zahmire S. Welcome faces felony counts of aggravated assault, robbery and conspiracy in connection to the robbery near East Sixth and Atlantic streets. District Judge Nicholas Englesson ordered that all charges against Welcome be held over for county court following a preliminary hearing Tuesday afternoon in the Northampton County Courthouse.
Defense attorney Michael Moyer asked for a bail reduction, and county pretrial services recommended lowering Welcome’s bail to $100,000 with a 10 percent cash option. He's currently being held on $150,000 straight bail.
Pretrial services based the recommendation on Welcome’s lack of a criminal record, his ties to the area and the fact that would live with mother should he be released.
But Assistant District Attorney Patricia Mulqueen opposed the request, indicating Welcome has admitted to being a member of the Money Rules Everything gang. She also told the judge that Welcome is being investigated for his possible role in a homicide.
The prosecution did not specify which homicide, but Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli has previously said the Money Rules Everything or MRE gang could be connected to the stabbing and burning death of 18-year-old Tyrell Holmes in April.
An alleged gang member is also accused in the June shooting outside the Lehigh Valley Mall in Whitehall Township.
In denying the request to lower bail, Englesson ruled that Welcome is a greater flight risk now that his charges have been bound over to county court. The alleged attack in which he is accused appears to have been without provocation and makes Welcome a danger to the community, the judge said.
Welcome’s mother and his girlfriend with whom he has an infant child attended the hearing. Welcome’s visibly upset mother tried unsuccessfully to address the judge from the gallery and could be heard hurling expletives as she left the courtroom, denying that her son belongs to any gang.
Moyer asked the judge to dismiss the charges after the prosecution provided only hearsay testimony. While recent case law allows hearsay testimony during preliminary hearings, the defense argued that prosecutors should provide at least some direct testimony.
Moyer also argued that the facts don’t support an aggravated assault charge. He tried to paint a picture in which three men exchanged words with the victim, they walked onto the street and decided to fight. The prosecution failed to provide any medical evidence that proved extreme indifference to the value of human life, Moyer said.
As for the robbery charge, the witness couldn’t tell police that it was his alleged attackers who took his iPhone, wallet and cash, he said. And none of the three men seen on a surveillance video running from the area could be seen carrying any of the victim’s belongings, Moyer said.
“The guy was unconscious,” Moyer said. “Any of those citizens or bystanders (seen in the video) could have come over and taken them.”
The prosecution countered that it need only show an intent to inflict serious injury. No one can say with a straight face that three men pounding on a victim until he blacks out didn’t intend to seriously injure that person, Mulqueen said.
As for the robbery, circumstantial evidence is just as good as any other evidence, she said. It’s easy to infer that the three people running from the robbery stashed the victim’s belongings in the backpack one man was seen carrying on the video, Mulqueen said.
Bethlehem police Officer Emily Falko testified that she responded to St. Luke’s Hospital Anderson Campus in Bethlehem Township to interview the victim the night of July 5. She described a host of injuries that included swollen and bleeding lips, swollen eyes, large knots on his forehead and cuts to his hands and elbows.
Falko testified that the victim told her he had gone to Yosko Park that night to meet a friend. Once there, three men approached him and the victim identified one of the men as Welcome, a former friend from middle school, according to the officer’s testimony.
Falko said the victim reported that one of the men he didn’t recognize told him “no clutch.” The victim told her that meant the man had a gun but wasn’t going to use it, so they were going to fight, according to testimony.
Det. Blake Kuntz testified that surveillance cameras did not capture the assault. He told the court that video surveillance did show a man that “strongly resembled” Welcome walking toward where the assault occurred and later running away in the opposite direction. Kuntz testified that he was familiar with Welcome during his time as a community police officer and that Welcome was a suspect in another investigation.
The victim allegedly identified a photo of Welcome as one of the men who assaulted him, according to Kuntz.
During an interview with investigators, Welcome refused to speak with Kuntz about the robbery and assault. Kuntz testified that he then ended that inquiry and read Welcome his Miranda warnings regarding the other investigation.
After a more than two-hour interview regarding a separate matter, Kuntz said he gave Welcome a copy of an arrest warrant and criminal complaint for the Yosko Park robbery. Kuntz testified that Welcome began questioning portions of the complaint, implying that he was at the scene.
Moyer objected to the line of questioning, arguing the prosecution couldn’t draw such an inference.
The defense attacked several areas of police testimony, including why investigators didn’t ask the victim to identify the friend he claimed to be visiting as a possible witness. Moyer also questioned why investigators hadn’t identified possible witnesses see in the surveillance video.
Cross-examination revealed that authorities never recovered a gun one of the men claimed to have and that investigators could not recover any fingerprints from the victim’s phone that was later tracked to and found under a garbage bin behind the Valley Farm Market. Outside the courtroom, Moyer wondered aloud why authorities haven't charged the other men reportedly spotted in the surveillance video.
- South Whitehall to purchase three fire department vehicles
- Mansion for sale after 30 years
- Lehigh Valley woman raises money for animal emergency kits
- Advocates rally in Allentown for higher minimum wage
- Allentown students who fled Hurricane Maria reflect on 1-year anniversary
- Man who robs Easton CVS at knifepoint turns self in
- Gunman dead in shooting at judge's office in western Pa.
- Updated Allentown narrowly approves debt refinancing
- Final Downtown Alive concert of the summer
- Search for man who shot, killed parents in Chester County
- Mayor responds to former city manager's comments
- Dog the Bounty Hunter to join search for Shawn Christy
- South Whitehall to purchase three fire department vehicles
- Council members say faith is lost in Phillipsburg mayor
- PHOTOS: Galactic Empire headlines final Downtown Alive concert of 2018
- Grants and rebates for electric vehicle charging stations announced