A jury found a Southwest man guilty of first-degree murder in the 2005 slaying of a South Philly resident. Frank Jeffs will serve life in prison without parole.
Southwest resident Frank Jeffs took the stand in his own defense last Thursday on the third day of his trial for the shooting death of Robert Kerwood, 26 at the time of his slaying.
Kerwood's 28-year-old widow, Julie, from the 2500 block of Colorado Street, wept as she watched Jeffs testify he shot Kerwood in self-defense during a road-rage incident in Southwest Philly May 5 of last year.
Seated in a wheelchair not far from her was Kerwood's mother, Julia. Cradling her head in her right hand, she cried softly as she listened to the 52-year-old Jeffs tell his version of events.
In the end, it was a story the jury did not buy.
After three-and-a-half hours of deliberation, Jeffs was found guilty of first-degree murder and possession of an instrument of crime March 31. He will be sentenced May 15 to life in prison without parole.
"Just because you're licensed to carry [a firearm] doesn't mean you're licensed to kill. You have to stop and evaluate whether or not the other person has a gun. You have the duty to retreat. You have to do everything you can to avoid killing that other person," Assistant District Attorney Carmen Lineberger said of Jeffs, who had a permit to carry, after the sentencing.
Defense counsel Scott Shields of Shields & Hoppe LLP was stunned by the verdict and said plans for an appeal are in the works.
"I am personally profoundly upset the jury came back with first-degree murder," he said. "I thought that under the facts of this case he was justified in taking the action that he took. I still believe it was a justifiable case of self-defense."
One of the major points Shields argued throughout the trial and in his closing was Jeffs is licensed to carry a firearm and the reason listed on that license is "self-defense."
"What do you do when the state says you can carry a firearm for your own self-defense, then the state comes after you when you use it in self-defense? It's not fair," Shields said.
In closing arguments, Shields called his client "an innocent man."
JEFFS HAD GONE fishing the morning of the shooting and was returning home via the Passyunk Avenue Bridge. When he reached the top of the span that connects South and Southwest Philly, he encountered Robert Kerwood's silver SUV. According to Shields, as well as Jeffs' testimony, Kerwood started drifting into Jeffs' lane.
"He was telling me to pull over because he was gong to f*****g kill me. I was scared for my life that this man was going to kill me," Jeffs testified.
In an attempt to escape, Jeffs turned off at 61st Street, only to be followed by Kerwood, who pointed "something black and shiny at me," the defendant testified. At that point, Jeffs pulled his .22-caliber revolver and fired the first of three shots at Kerwood. The bullet landed in the ceiling of the SUV.
According to Jeffs, Kerwood continued cursing and threatening him, so he fired another shot at him and then a third. The latter struck Kerwood in the face and Jeffs said he saw blood.
"He chased my client, threatened to kill him," Shields said. "He could have had a gun; he could have had a cell phone. Guns are black and shiny; cell phones are black and shiny."
After the shooting, Jeffs drove to his apartment on the 6000 block of Dicks Avenue.
Kerwood lay mortally wounded in his SUV. When fire medics arrived at the scene, they found Kerwood's Nextel flip phone on the floor of his car, opened and with blood on it. No gun was found.
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