Officer Down: Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski
PHILADELPHIA â€” Police charged a journeyman boxer with murder and issued a warrant yesterday for an alleged accomplice in connection with the â€œassassinationâ€ of Philadelphia Police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski on Saturday after a bank heist by three ex-cons.
â€œIâ€™m going to let him have it,â€ Howard Cain, 33, allegedly said as he turned his high-powered rifle on Liczbinski Saturday afternoon. Police shot Cain dead minutes later.
Cainâ€™s words were recalled in a confession by Levon T. Warner, 39, the local boxer and the only one of the three suspects in custody, according to a police source.
Warner, of the 5400 block of Westminster Street in West Philadelphia, was arraigned last night on charges of murder, robbery and conspiracy. He provided a detailed account of his part in Liczbinskiâ€™s death, according to the source.
Police and the FBI expanded their search yesterday for the fugitive suspect, Eric DeShann Floyd, 33, from Philadelphia to Lancaster, Pa., where Floyd once lived. Floyd should be considered armed and extremely dangerous, police said.
Floyd escaped from a Reading halfway house recently, police said. He knew Cain from prison, and the two shared a rundown, corner apartment in Fairhill that neighbors described as a haven for transients.
Court records show that all three men have been convicted of robbery, and Cain and Warner were friends, according to the police source. The three allegedly devised an elaborate plan, complete with disguises and military-style weaponry, to rob the Bank of America branch in the ShopRite supermarket on Aramingo Avenue in Port Richmond on Saturday.
The three fled the robbery in a Jeep Liberty that had been carjacked in North Philadelphia on Friday and were quickly tailed by Liczbinski. At Almond and Schiller Streets, just blocks from the bank, Cain got out of the Jeep and fired five shots from a Chinese SKS assault rifle, according to the official police account and details from Warnerâ€™s confession provided by the source.
Liczbinski, of the 24th District, was shot multiple times and died at Temple University Hospital. Liczbinski, 39, a 12-year-veteran and recently promoted sergeant, would have turned 40 tomorrow. He had a wife and three children.
â€œThat officer was assassinated on the streets of Philadelphia,â€ Mayor Nutter said in an interview yesterday. â€œThere was nothing that could have protected him â€“ that weapon penetrates vehicles.â€
Deputy Police Commissioner William Blackburn said Liczbinskiâ€™s patrol car was found with a single bullet hole in the door. It was unclear yesterday exactly where Liczbinski was when he was struck, though he appeared to have been getting out of the car at the time.
The three suspects ditched the Jeep in the 3400 block of North Miller Street, four blocks from where the officer lay dying. Cain hopped into Warnerâ€™s Chrysler Town and Country minivan but was cornered by police in the 500 block of East Louden Street, near Roosevelt Boulevard.
Cain got out of the van with the SKS rifle and police shot him dead. His gun apparently jammed with 25 of 30 rounds unspent. Five spent shell casings were found at the scene of the officerâ€™s slaying.
Police recovered the rifle outside the van. Inside was a .44-caliber revolver loaded with five rounds, two sets of Muslim clothing, $38,000 in cash taken from the bank, and two GPS â€œbloodhoundâ€ units, used by banks to track stolen cash. Blackburn said police used the GPS signal to track the suspects.
In a nearby alley, police found a loaded .22-caliber revolver and other clothing. Also recovered during the investigation were another set of Muslim clothing, a dreadlocks wig, and a dust mask, all believed worn as disguises.
Blackburn said police were looking at other robberies in the city that were committed by people in Muslim garb.
Warner was questioned by police and he told them his van had been carjacked, but Blackburn said he was quickly connected to the other men.
Warner, a sometimes-professional boxer who had been recently looking for a fight, was ordered held without bail pending a preliminary hearing May 14. He most recently fought Joey Abell at the Legendary Blue Horizon in September, where he was knocked out in the first round. Warner won $4,000 for that fight, said Don Elbaum, who matched the two fighters for the event.
In 1997, Warner was sentenced to 7Â½ years to 15 years in prison on a robbery charge, according to court records.
In 1996, Cain pleaded guilty to four counts of robbery, carrying firearms without a license, and criminal conspiracy in Philadelphia. He was sentenced to five to 10 years on each robbery charge, two to four on the other charges.
Floyd was convicted by a jury in 2001 in connection with two robberies of convenience stores in Lancaster. It was unclear yesterday whether his sentence at the halfway house in Reading was connected to that crime. Floyd was also sentenced to five to 10 years in prison on a 1995 guilty plea to robbery in Philadelphia.
Last night, casually dressed neighbors and police officers in uniform prayed outside a makeshift memorial at the site of Liczbinskiâ€™s shooting. A small tent was filled with flowers and candles. One of Liczbinskiâ€™s shirts hung in back. A Flyers flag, signed by fellow officers and neighbors, hung along one side.
Two priests and a Police Department minister called for love in the face of violence and for support for the slain officerâ€™s family and coworkers.
People from the neighborhood applauded the officers who came to the memorial service. At the end, the officers stood at attention in recognition of two crying men who tried to help Liczbinski after the shooting and felt they had let him down.
The slaying also is likely to become Exhibit No. 1 in the cityâ€™s effort to adopt stricter gun laws. One of several laws that Nutter signed last month in defiance of the state legislature bans the kind of weapon used to kill Liczbinski. The cityâ€™s ability to enact its own gun laws is the subject of a lawsuit against the state.
â€œPeople need to look in their hearts and minds about what happened,â€ the mayor said. â€œThatâ€™s the kind of firepower our officers are up against.â€