Decision Expected Today In Cassidy Murder Trial

Cassidy's first-degree murder trial began Monday with the rapper waiving his right to a trial by jury, leaving his fate in the hands of Judge Jane Greenspan — a move the defense hopes will result in an acquittal or a conviction on a lesser charge, according to a source close to the trial.

Testimony in the bench trial, which is taking place in Philadelphia's Court of Common Pleas, is expected to conclude Tuesday (January 24), and Greenspan is expected to make a decision later in the afternoon.

Cassidy (real name: Barry Reese) faces life in prison — and a possible death sentence — if convicted of the first-degree charge. He stands accused of the murder of 22-year-old Desmond Hawkins and the attempted murders of two other men, with both charges stemming from the same April 15 shooting incident. In August, the charge was briefly reduced to third-degree murder, but the original charge was reinstated the following month.

Hawkins was shot in the back while sitting in a van that was parked in an alleyway behind Cassidy's home in Philadelphia's Cedarbrook neighborhood. According to the Philadelphia Daily News, Hawkins and a group of his friends drove to Cassidy's house seeking retribution for a fight that had broken out hours before, outside a nearby pharmacy. The fight, according to the prosecution, was between Hawkins' friend, Roberto Johnson, and a member of Cassidy's crew.

According to Monday's testimony, shots rang out as soon as the van pulled into the alley. Witnesses did not agree on who fired the first rounds, but ballistics evidence indicates that bullets came from both sides: 30 were fired into the van and at least 12 shot from the van. Police maintain Cassidy and two other men, both of whom remain at large, fired shots on three unarmed individuals, killing Hawkins.

Johnson testified that he'd been outside the van, urinating in someone's backyard, when the first shots were fired. "They drive past," he said, referring to his friends, and "I [got] myself together ... When I heard the gunshots, I ducked behind a car." He added that the shots seemed to be coming from behind Cassidy's residence, and that they "carried on" for what seemed like "forever. I can't give an exact time frame, but it seemed like a long time."

The paper reported that during cross-examination, Johnson told Cassidy's attorney, Fortunato Perri, that he'd made the trip to Cassidy's home to settle a score and that he was not armed at the time of the shooting. Johnson admitted that he would shoot someone if he felt his own life was being threatened.

According to the Daily News, Perri implied during his cross that it was Johnson who fired the opening salvo that incited the shoot-out. Prosecutor Deborah Watson-Stokes affirmed her position that the shooting was premeditated; she claimed Cassidy planned the ambush and had stationed four of his cohorts at different spots in the alleyway.

The prosecution called another witness, Joseph Newkirk, who had told police he'd seen Cassidy fire a gun the night of the shooting. But on the witness stand, Newkirk's account changed: He told the court that police intimidated him into making false statements about the incident.

The case has been active for nearly 10 months, and Cassidy has been incarcerated since turning himself in to Philadelphia police in June.

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