A hitman who helped kill a family of six to retaliate against a drug informant testified Monday his drug gang had made a pact to kill the mother of any member who snitched.
The 2004 firebombing, among the worst witness retaliation killings in city history, killed informant Eugene Coleman's mother plus his cousin, his infant son and three other children. Coleman was in prison at the time.
Hitman Lamont Lewis testified for several hours Monday in the death penalty trial of Philadelphia drug kingpin Kaboni Savage, who's already serving a 30-year drug sentence and now is charged with running a violent racketeering enterprise that killed 11 people, including Coleman's family.
Lewis, who said he and his cousin, trial defendant Robert Merritt, had committed the arson, calmly detailed the predawn crime. He said he had expected only Coleman's mother and brother to be home. He said he was ``shell-shocked'' to hear the body count on the morning news.
"We both were really messed up about what happened,'' Lewis said.
He said he had broken down the door and fired two gunshots to see if anyone was downstairs.
"A lady screamed, `Who's that?''' Lewis testified.
Merritt then tossed two burning cans of gasoline inside the row house, Lewis said.
Savage also was in prison when he's accused of ordering the hit through his sister, Kidada Savage, who also is on trial.
The Savage siblings and Merritt have pleaded not guilty. At the beginning of the trial, defense lawyers painted Lewis as violent and treacherous.
Lewis explained why he agreed to carry out the killings.
"That's what I did for the team,'' he said. "That's my role.''
Lewis, 36, expects to serve at least 40 years in prison but be spared the death penalty in exchange for his testimony. He said his family has been put in the witness protection program.
He also acknowledged killing several people unrelated to Savage's group, including a woman he shot in the face because she had stabbed her quadriplegic drug dealer boyfriend. He said the boyfriend paid him to kill her.
Lewis, speaking in a flat, dry voice, said he started selling $2 vials of cocaine for a dealer named Pumpkin when he was 15 or 16, lured by the chance to make money for a trip to an amusement park.
"My first half-hour out there, I must have made $100 or $200,'' he said.
Within months, he was a mid-level distributor, and before long he had his own drug corner.
Ronald "Pumpkin'' Walston was killed in the summer of 2001. Lewis has a tattoo honoring him on his neck.
Lewis and Merritt have large tattoos across their chests that say "Ride or Die.'' According to Lewis, the term ``ride'' means to go to trial rather than cooperate with authorities.
"Riding is what the defendants are doing,'' he said in the heavily guarded courtroom, a few feet from Savage, ``and I guess I'm dying because I'm cooperating.''