A Philadelphia Murder Story

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 18 | Posted Dec. 22, 2010

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The AK-47, invented by a poet-turned-arms-designer in Russia in 1947, is a favorite of militia and terrorist organizations. The AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle first employed by the U.S. military in the jungles of South Vietnam in 1963, is prized for both its accuracy and modularity—it can be easily customized for diverse tasks.

Both weapons were fired in the West Philly neighborhood of Wynnefield in June 2005. Three men—faces obscured by American flag bandanas on sale for the Fourth of July—burst into the dining room of a rowhome on the 5800 block of Malvern Street, spraying 29 bullets into the walls, ceiling and floor.

Seven of those bullets tore through the body 19-year-old Alonzo Robinson, known in the hood as Onion. After being rushed to the hospital by an ambulance, doctors severed his right arm, surgically completing an amputation initiated by the gunfire. Robinson was one of two targets in the house that day. His death, two days later, was mission accomplished. The second target was Elbert Tolbert (also known as L-Murder), but he escaped unscathed.

Eleven-year-old Nasir Hinton was collateral damage. Nasir was hanging out in the living room waiting on his mom to finish fixing dinner when the masked men burst through the door. Shot three times in the back, he probably never knew what was happening.

The first bullet entered the child’s lower back and ripped sharply upward through his right kidney, right adrenal gland, diaphram, right lung and lodged in his neck muscles. The second punctured his left kidney, adrenal gland, stomach and heart, then exited his breastbone. The third was recovered from his liver. Technically, he died of inhaling a rush of blood into his lungs after the force of the gunfire practically disintegrated his organs.

Nasir was one of 36 victims under 17 years old killed in Philadelphia in 2005.

One of the gunmen, Lionel Campfield, known as Man Man, is the youngest of the suspects. He was 16 years old at the time of the shoot-out. Though too young to face the death penalty, Campfield’s court docket listed the trial as a capital case until about a week before trial when the mistake was realized. He faces life in prison. Campfield pleaded not guilty at his week-long trial last month.

The story barely made headlines even though—and perhaps because—it represents a brutal kind of murder in Philadelphia, where the artillery is heavy and the players are young. In Philadelphia, guns are used in more homicides than in any other U.S. city—and semi-automatic weapons appear to be playing a larger role. Most notoriously, Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski was gunned down by a Chinese-made assault rifle similar to an Ak-47 in May 2009. This past July, Officer Kevin Livewell was shot in Kensington by a masked man with an assault rifle.

These trends, coupled with the ‘no-snitch’ street policy that any Philly cop will tell you hamstrings most homicide investigations, weigh down an already overburdened justice system.

“You’re going to see the ugly side of Philadelphia,” announces Assistant District Attorney Gail Fairman to the jury in her opening argument at Lionel Campfield’s trial last month. “You’re going to hear from men who say things like the death of an 11-year-old was ‘unfortunate,’ ‘fucked up,’ in their words.”

The slow grind

It’s taken five years for the Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office to piece together the puzzle of what happened the day Robinson and Hinton were killed. But bit by bit—a reckless accomplice who couldn’t keep the guns out of the hands of police; a confession; and deals that spare murderers death—the picture is almost complete.

After more than three years of investigation with little progress, the first two of three arrest warrants—for Campfield and for his friend Kareem Alverest—went out in October 2008. Alverest, also known as Reem Nice, was 24 years old at the time of the shoot-out.

Alverest was already in custody on federal gun charges at the time of his arrest. He waived his preliminary hearing and cooperated with authorities: He would testify against his two accomplices in exchange for his life.

Campfield’s arrest wasn’t dramatic. The warrant popped up in the system. Officer Brian Weaver, a beat cop, saw it and headed to Campfield’s last known address. Campfield cooperated and took the ride down to PPD headquarters.

The third alleged gunman, Rassan Johnson, has a confusing rap sheet 63 charges long, though many are dismissed or not processed. About a month after the shoot-out, cops confiscated the AK-47. According to police testimony, police got their hands on the AR-15 after a dramatic escapade this past May.

Johnson was driving through North Philly in a black Cadillac. Cops in a patrol car watched the car make an illegal turn and flashed their lights. The Cadillac sped off and a chase was on. The Caddy crashed, then Johnson jumped out and ran on foot. He tossed a dark gray bag on the street. A renegade tow-truck driver driving by saw the crash and pulled over to help. As the cop took off in pursuit of Johnson, he accidentally dropped his gun, which went skidding into the street. The tow-truck driver hopped out of his truck, ran over and picked up the cop’s gun. Next thing, Johnson jumped into the tow truck and drove away with it, with more cops in pursuit.

Eventually, the police caught up with Johnson. Inside the bag was the AR-15 rifle. A loaded .9 mm pistol with an obliterated serial number was also confiscated. The feds charged Johnson with illegal possession of firearms by a felon and the state charged him with the deaths of Hinton and Robinson and related charges. Johnson’s trial begins next month. Like Campfield, he will plead not guilty. Johnson was 26 years old at the time of the murders. He faces the death penalty.


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Comments 1 - 18 of 18
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1. reggie4151 said... on Dec 22, 2010 at 06:01AM

“This is becoming all to commonplace in Philly. This one moron has 63 charges and is still terrorizing the streets of Philly, due to the justice system. My opinion the judges who let these idiots off should serve some time if they commit another crime while they are free. This is one of the reason's i don't go into neighborhoods i don't know.”

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2. Bob Hill said... on Dec 22, 2010 at 11:09AM

“Will someone please offer whatever is the most sought after investigative journalism post in the city to Tara Murtha ASAP?

Thanks in Advance.
Bob Hill”

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3. M.G. said... on Dec 22, 2010 at 11:52AM

“It is extrememly unfortunate that this occured and that the people involved were not brought to justice earlier. However it is important to clarify that Wynnefield as a neighborhood is not synonomous with the section called "The Bottom" and the 5800 block of Malvern is NOT considered part of "The Bottom". Majority of the Wynnefield neighborhood consists of well kept and well established blocks that are safe and mixed with everyone from local politicians to St. Joe's students.”

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4. Tara Murtha said... on Dec 22, 2010 at 01:44PM

“M.G. Thank you for your comment. I realized this mistake while editing so it should not have been there. The reference has been deleted online and does not appear in the print version. Thanks. -- TM”

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5. roses madrigale said... on Dec 23, 2010 at 07:40AM

“This is the writing that earns the most prestiges awards-
this is investigative journalism at its' finest-
kudos to Tara and this writing-I am so sure the victims families and the people who call this neighborhood home are grateful.
Like the previous writer I am sure this young women will be sought after by other print or to teach journalism!
Thank you to the almighty for the free press.
Tara keep fighting the good fight!

roses madrigale”

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6. jj said... on Dec 23, 2010 at 10:40PM

“they keep having babies they cant take care of.murtha just another media moron&a minor leaguer at that”

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7. V said... on Dec 24, 2010 at 11:37AM

“This is the most realistic type of journalism, that tells the whole story in full detail, arousing emotions and reactions from readers instead of drawing every murder as another commonplace incident. No matter how often murder occurs every year, every day, in a city, it should never be described so blandly as it typically is- as a routine event with no emotions attached. Thank you Tara Murtha”

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8. Anonymous said... on Dec 25, 2010 at 12:19AM

“I enjoyed the article and I agree that it tells the story of what is sadly an all too common occurrence in the city in a striking fashion. The interesting and emotive writing style pounds the reader with mind-numbing detail that serves to confirm that the dwellers in those neighborhoods share very little with the rest of us in the civilized world. I experienced not one nanosecond of identification with any of the players in this story. The horrific importance placed on "respect" in such a self-hating / self-destructive / corpse shooting culture perplexes me with its profound irony.

This piece confirms to me that this city is a lost cause; the murder of an 11 year old can't just be relegated to the "unfortunate" column when so many actions by adults of directed wantonness occur. Far from an unforeseen tragedy, such collateral deaths should be presented as an expected outcome . . . This culture of indiscriminately applied street retribution has all sorts of unintended consequences; a girlfriend letting her boyfriend use her car for his bounty-hunting mission must not be thought of as a zero-sum event.

The car is recognized, the area it frequents is staked-out and the murderer and corpse shooting boyfriend are leisurely hanging out in the girlfriend's house with her kids around. Nothing that happens after such stupidity and carelessness can be reasonably considered an unforeseen tragedy.

The focus on the weaponry involved was thankfully a path abandoned in this piece. Another whiny missive about how we need a few more laws to control the behavior of people who, as a matter of personal conviction ignore if not actively violate laws, would be pitiful given the facts of this case (and most cases it is seen). Thanks for not going there (even though the headline writers teased it as such).

All in all, accept the accolades but realize this narrative is nothing but a testament of how far the inner city has has diverged from normal human social existence (at least in the civilized western world). It has only made me care less about their lot in life and cemented my resolve that they should have as little influence in the real world as possible (you can read that simplistically as political clout).”

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9. Anonymous said... on Dec 29, 2010 at 12:42AM

“I read this article in it's entirety and it's crazy how I read these comments made by people who are hearing testimonies from people who sound like to me are plain old liars and just trying to get themselves out of trouble. I say this because it's crazy that the jury would even convict this young man due to jacked up testimonies that spell out some reasonable doubt. You hear a cops testimony and believe it because they are cops but do you not remember what these same cops in Philadelphia did to those four innocent men in the lex street massacre they made one of those men lie on himself and say he murdered those people just so that they hurry up and end their case to make it seem like they did their job to satisfy the grieving families involved. Wow and it turned that those men were TRULY innocent because someone came forward to take responsibility for those murders. What did the police do when he came forward they called him crazy because he was already serving life. Think about it!!!”

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10. Anonymous said... on Dec 29, 2010 at 01:01AM

“Think about it they call him crazy and his story is unbelievable because they wanted to cover their asses. I'm so tired of seeing innocent black men go to jail all because they fit the ''SOCALLED'' of a murderer. What does a murderer look like anyway. A black man that lives in the hood or a white man
like Dahmer or Bundy who got away with killing over 20 people because they didn't fit the description. Not once did I hear Tara mention fingerprints, other witnesses besides the 'rats caught in a trap', and they find this young man guilty of 2 murders. Not even the guy Tolbert could identify who shot those people and he was there! This is becoming all too common in Philadelphia innocent men who are labled as THUGS getting life sentences off of hearsay. What happened to hard core evidence. That's what makes a case stick without a reasonable doubt! This boy went to jail for life because of word of mouth. You people praise Tara for her word play in this article. Please get real”

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11. mamabear1210 said... on Dec 29, 2010 at 01:05AM

“excellent in-depth article. you leave no stone unturned to report all the facts from start to finish. Bravo”

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12. Anonymous said... on Dec 29, 2010 at 01:18AM

“I no the mother of the boy who was killed and i'm just glad it's all aver for her after all these yrs of no closer for her and my family just want to say thank god those men was tried & jugde by man now they will be by god.they will never rest their souls will always be hawnted by wht they done........RIP LIL NAZ NEVER GOT THE CHANCE TO REALLY NO U BUT I NO MY BROTHER LUV U YOU WAS HIS FAMILY AND THT MADE U MINES YOU ARE LOVED AND MISSED!!!!!!!!!”

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13. Martin said... on Jan 2, 2011 at 06:27AM

“"labeled THUGS"... Keep it real. BTW, your family will enjoy eating bologna sandwiches or, if still on the outside, asking me if I want fries with that. Wait, here's a way to make money, sell poisen to each other!”

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14. Anonymous said... on Jan 7, 2011 at 04:24PM

“I'm going to have to agree with the first anonymous reader, how the fuck can you convict a man off of hear say? My heart goes out to Nasir's mother and their family, but that just doesn't make any sense. In that case if someone comes forward and testified that Campfield said he wasn't there prior to the murders, would they have took that into consideration?? Answer to that is FUCK NO!!!!!! The whole system is fucked up. As for Johnson the guy with 63 different charges, in which most of them was dismissed stop and think maybe because they deserved to be.. NOT because the DA wanted too.”

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15. TruthBeTold said... on Jan 12, 2011 at 02:48PM

“To Tara Murtha, I am one of the people you've slandered in this article. I see people are praising you for excellent investigative journalism, when in fact you did nothing more than propagate lies.!! Did you do your own investigation or was your story fed to you by the same officers who falsified reports and the events surrounding the case? Did you get it from the detectives who prescripted testimonies for various suspects in the case to pass them as witnesses who will get benefits for cooperation? Did you get it from the D.A. Who have already concealed major facts, statements, and proof of corruption from the courts, from the victims' family, and the public???? You owe more than an apology yet your accepting praise- See you in court!!!!!”

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16. RAw Relly said... on Apr 14, 2012 at 02:54PM

“Fuck Yall Rats!!! We Be Back Again With A Better Virdict!!! 29th n Thompson bitches Free Chill Black asap”

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17. JUSTICE for Naz said... on Feb 22, 2013 at 04:37PM

“To Tara Murtha: Thank you for posting this article about Nasir's and Alonzo's justice. Nasir was my little cousin... We lives in our memories and Hollie, his sister and younger brother can have closure. People on here can get mad and say your tainting the story and making false claims but there's three sides to every story ( YOUR SIDE , THEIR SIDE , and THE TRUTH ) God knows who's wrong and ultimately they will be judged by him. I could care less about how other people feel about who did what and killed who, Im thankful my fam has justice and its sad Naz had to die because grown men and their egos.”

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18. Anonymous said... on Feb 26, 2013 at 03:46PM

“What can we seriously do to stop this severe brutality?”


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