Pathologist: MOVE Children’s Deaths Homicide
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The children who died in the fiery confrontation between police and the radical group MOVE were victims of homicide, not an accident, and city officials were partly responsible for the deaths, a pathologist testified Tuesday.
Dr. Ali Hameli, Delaware’s chief medical examiner, also blamed the MOVE adults in the deaths, and said that five children, not four as previously determined, died in the May 13 confrontation.
Hameli said he attributed the deaths of the six adults to suicide or homicide, rather than natural causes, and that one of the adults killed was a co-founder of the radical back-to-nature cult.
In other testimony before the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission, a fire expert said authorities easily could have extinguished the raging blaze even two hours after police dropped a bomb on the MOVE fortress, saving 61 homes and possibly the lives of the 11 victims.
Instead, authorities waited four hours, he said.
Hameli disputed a ruling of accidental death made in all 11 cases last July by the Philadelphia medical examiner’s office.
The children died because of ″the consequence of the measured and deliberate acts of, and the interractions between, the adults responsible for the MOVE house and the officials of the city of Philadelphia,″ he said.
Under questioning, he said he was referring to the effort by police to break into the headquarters by force and the MOVE adults’ refusal to free the children before the confrontation began.
He said he determined none of the victims died from accidental or natural causes, leaving only two classifications remaining for the adults - suicide or homicide.
″The manner of death could best be left unclassified until all inquiries are finalized,″ he said.
A pathologist’s determination of homicide does not necessarily indicate criminal intent but only means a victim died at another person’s hands.
The special commission, which Mayor W. Wilson Goode appointed to investigate the tragedy, has no power to indict. District Attorney Edward Rendell said he has virtually ruled out filing homicide charges against officials or police officers but was investigating whether evidence supports charges of recklessness.
Federal prosecutors has said its investigation focuses on whether the victims’ civil rights were violated.
The confrontation began when four radicals refused to surrender on arrest warrants the morning of May 13 after months of neighborhood complaints about filth, threats and assaults.
After a daylong attack that included tear gas, water cannons and gunfire, police bombed the MOVE fortress to destroy a rooftop bunker, setting off a fire that caused up to $20 million in damage and displaced more than 250 residents.
Hameli, who was hired by the commission along with two associates, said his team determined that MOVE co-founder John Africa, also known as Vincent Leaphart, was one of six victims the Philadelphia medical examiner’s office was unable to identify.
Several relatives have contended that Africa, who required all MOVE members to take the same surname, was in the house during the confrontation. But skepticism surrounded the reports because police said they had lost track of Africa several years ago.
Hameli, who helped identify the remains of Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele earlier this year, also said examination of pelvic and thigh bones showed that a victim identified previously as an adult was a girl 13 to 15 years old named Katricia ″Tree″ Dotson.
The only child known to have survived the blaze, Michael ″Birdie″ Ward, has testified he saw Katricia fleeing the burning house through a back alley as he headed in the opposite direction.
Hameli said his team found metal that could have been a bullet jacket in Africa’s chest. He also said he found shotgun pellets in Africa, a woman and three children.
Earlier Tuesday, Charles King, who once served as a fire marshal with the New York City Fire Department, said authorities invited disaster by failing to control the fire, which they started by bombing the MOVE roof.
The bombing was designed to destroy a bunker and knock a hole in the roof as a conduit for more tear gas after water cannons, tear gas and gunshots failed to drive out the radicals during a daylong seige. The confrontation began with four MOVE members refusing to surrender on arrest warrants.
King said police and fire officials decided to let the fire burn to gain a tactical advantage over the MOVE members.
″The decision invited a major fire,″ King said. ″Anytime you drop an explosive devise, you have the potential for fire.″
King, who was hired by the commission, said three gasoline cans on the roof added to the danger.
Authorities could have allowed the fire to burn for up to 2 hours and still brought it under control relatively quickly, he said, if firefighters had not faced the threat of MOVE gunfire.
″Osage Avenue (where the house was situated) was a no man’s land. You go in and fight a conventional operation and you can put that fire out. If it wasn’t for the gunfire, firemen might have been able to get it out,″ he said.
King said firefighters were unable to get into the street to fight the blaze until 9:30 p.m., four hours after the bomb was dropped.