Philadelphia Litigation Titans Richard Sprague, Robert Mongeluzzi Clash in Closing Arguments of Market Street Collapse Trial

Richard Sprague, left, and Robert Mongeluzzi, right, squared off on the final day of closing arguments in the months-long Market Street collapse civil trial, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. Left: Associated Press; Right: File

As he sat down, one of the dozens of besuited lawyers said to a colleague, "So this is how the movie ends."

Within minutes, a 91-year-old attorney no more than five feet tall told the jury at the Market Street collapse civil trial that they were "watching a Broadway play."

The hunched-over attorney before the 12 jurors and four alternates Wednesday was Richard Sprague, who began a 90-minute closing argument for his fellow nonegenarian, the developer Richard Basciano, who Sprague represents.

Basciano is one of six defendants in the civil trial for the Market Street collapse catastrophe. The courtroom drama has stretched more than four months. The other defendants are Basciano's company STB, his project representative Plato Marinakos, demolition contractor Griffin Campbell, Campbell’s excavator operator Sean Benschop, and the Salvation Army, which owned and operated the store that Basciano’s building crushed the morning of June 5, 2013.

Sprague, one of Philadelphia's most respected -- and feared -- litigants, began his argument by telling the jury he wanted "to talk to you from my heart."

He argued that no one involved wanted anyone killed. And now more than three years later, he said, the families of the seven people killed and the surviving 12 people who were injured in the collapse "don't want justice."

"They seek revenge," Sprague said. "And revenge can blind you."

The elder attorney, however, did not have the last word in the two days of closing arguments. That duty was for another attorney with his own reputation for leading some of the largest civil lawsuits in recent Philadelphia history, Robert Mongeluzzi.

Mongeluzzi, representing the 19 plaintiffs, addressed Sprague by name in the midst of a blistering attack on the defendants -- in particular, Basciano and the Salvation Army, who would have the most assets up for grabs if found liable.

"I'll tell you, Mr. Sprague, you are dead wrong," Mongeluzzi said.

He began his own 90-minute closing by repeating a turn of phrase, "When it was time to," in comparing what he claimed were the defendants' actions leading up to the deadly catastrophe with their actions during the trial.

"When it was time to" demolish the Hoagie City shop, "they chose the inexperienced Griffin Campbell," he said. "When it was time to protect themselves, they brought in the legendary Richard Sprague."

"When it was time to protect the public, they chose no one. When it was time to protect themselves, they brought in Dr. (Najib) Abboud," Mongeluzzi said, referring to an engineering expert brought in to testify about the demolition process.

Paving Way for Building Collapse Memorial

Audible sighs came from the packed gallery of the sixth floor City Hall courtroom when Mongeluzzi told the jury that Abboud was paid $290,000 by the defense.

Attorneys for the defendants have at times during the trial blamed each other's clients for their role in the deadly collapse. Alternately, attorneys for STB and Basciano would blame Marinakos or the Salvation Army, the Salvation Army would blame STB and Marinakos, Marinakos would blame Benschop and Campbell, and STB, Basciano and Marinakos would blame Benschop and Campbell.

Benschop and Campbell are serving lengthy sentences in jail for their roles in the collapse. They are the only two who were criminally tried. Marinakos served as a willing witness for the Philadelphia District Attorney in the cases against the two.

After the closing arguments, Judge Theresa Sarmina will charge the jury to begin deliberations. Sarmina reportedly suspended the trial two days Thursday and Friday, and will charge the jury Monday morning.

The jury will then deliberate over a 36-question verdict sheet, which will determine whether any or all of the six defendants in the case are liable for damages to the families of the seven people killed and the surviving victims.

If any defendants are found liable, the trial will then enter its damages phase, during which attorneys will then present expert witnesses to give testimony about how much value can and should be assessed when life is lost, people are injuries, and trauma is incurred upon victims.

The jury would then deliberate again.

Deadly Building Collapse in Pictures: 4 Years Later