War of words over release of David Sheppard

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — Gov. Tom Wolf’s office has accused Delaware County District Attorney Kat Copeland of trying to get in the way of the clemency of a man who’s been in prison for about 30 years.

David Sheppard, now 54, was one of four men convicted of the robbery and murder of pharmacy owner Thomas Brannan in Overbrook in 1992.

He was one of eight people recently granted clemency by Wolf, but Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is accusing Copeland of trying to block that clemency by filing a detainer against Sheppard, due to an open shoplifting case from 1992.

In a scathing email sent out Friday morning, Fetterman called it an example of prosecutorial abuse of power. 

But Copeland said no one is arresting anyone and noted that Sheppard skipped a hearing in 1992 and never dealt with it. She said he could have stepped forward at any time during his prison term, including several weeks ago when they brought it to his attention.

“We offered him the opportunity to either go to trial or come plead guilty and accept responsibility,” she said. “He chose instead to ignore that.”

She said when her office was notified his life sentence was being commuted, they told him and the governor’s office of the outstanding warrant. 

Copeland added there is the possibility that the charge is dealt with without any additional prison time.

Although his life sentence was commuted by Wolf, Sheppard will still have to spend a year in a halfway house. 

Copeland also argued Wolf and Fetterman are trying to divert attention since they did not notify Brannan’s family prior to the clemency and, contrary to state law, never gave them a chance to weigh in on his release.

“The victims deserve a right to be heard, and in this case, they were denied that right,” Copeland countered.

Copeland lost the recent election to Jack Stollsteimer, who will be sworn in next month. He admitted he’s skeptical of how the case is being handled, but he acknowledges he doesn’t have all the information.

___

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Commuted prison lifer faces arrest when he’s released

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — Gov. Tom Wolf’s office has accused Delaware County District Attorney Kat Copeland of trying to get in the way of the clemency of a man who’s been in prison for about 30 years.

David Sheppard, now 54, was one of four men convicted of the robbery and murder of pharmacy owner Thomas Brannan in Overbrook in 1992.

He was one of eight people recently granted clemency by Wolf, but Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is accusing Copeland of trying to block that clemency by filing a detainer against Sheppard, due to an open shoplifting case from 1992.

Fetterman called it an example of prosecutorial abuse of power. 

But Copeland noted that Sheppard skipped a hearing in 1992 and never dealt with it. She said he could have stepped forward at any time during his prison term, including several weeks ago when they brought it to his attention.

“We offered him the opportunity to either go to trial or come plead guilty and accept responsibility,” she said. “He chose instead to ignore that.”

Copeland added there is the possibility that the charge is dealt with without any additional prison time.

Although his life sentence was commuted by Wolf, Sheppard will still have to spend a year in a halfway house. 

Copeland also argued Wolf and Fetterman are trying to divert attention since they did not notify Brannan’s family prior to the clemency and, contrary to state law, never gave them a chance to weigh in on his release.

“The victims deserve a right to be heard, and in this case, they were denied that right,” Copeland countered.

Copeland lost the recent election to Jack Stollsteimer, who will be sworn in next month. He admitted he’s skeptical of how the case is being handled, but he acknowledges he doesn’t have all the information.

___

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Philly students rally again against climate change

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Hundreds of students in the Philadelphia area walked out of their classrooms and homes Friday morning to attend another youth-led protest against climate change.

While the crowd wasn’t as large as the first climate strike outside City Hall in September, it was equally passionate. And this time, organizers brought along a list of demands.

“We are demanding a ban on fossil fuel infrastructure in the city of Philadelphia,” one young protester shouted.

They also demanded what’s been called the right to breathe legislation — a measure created as a result of the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery fire, in which toxic chemicals were released into the air — as well as an end to the 10-year property tax abatement and a cleanup of asbestos-contaminated schools.  

Related: Another delay: 2 high schools closed from asbestos will not reopen as scheduled in January

For most, if not all, of the student protesters, climate change presents an existential threat. 

“When I’m 28 years old, we will be past the point of no return, according to the scientists,” said Luisa Hanson, a senior at Central High School. “That is terrifying to me. I’m about to go to college. I want to be a lawyer. If I go to grad school, I’ll graduate when I’m 25, and then when I’m 28, we’ve past the point of no return. 

“It’s terrifying, which is why I’m here. Because I can’t just wallow in my terror. I have to channel it into something hopeful. And this makes me really hopeful.”

Unlike the September strike, students were able to avoid penalties from school as long as they had their parents’ permission.

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City’s child welfare system is steadily improving, DHS says

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Philadelphia Department of Human Services has issued its third annual “report card” on the community agencies that handle its case management, and it found steady progress in almost every area. 

DHS Commissioner Cynthia Figueroa said the report card is more than a check on performance. It’s a roadmap for how agencies can improve by showing them where they need to focus. 

When the report card started in 2017, all 10 agencies — known as Community Umbrella Agencies, or CUAs — basically flunked. On a scale of one to five, the best any organization did was a two, which translates to unsatisfactory. 

This time around, seven of the 10 agencies reached a ranking of four out of five — meaning proficient — and even the underperformers reached level three, which means competent.

“What we’ve seen is their ability to make progress in areas where they were really struggling in the past,” Figueroa said. “The pendulum has really swung in terms of how far they’ve come.”

Turning Points for Children is one of the high performers. CEO Dawn Holden-Woods said there’s been more collaboration among the agencies.

“We meet monthly to talk about what’s working, what’s not working, and while we’re all being ranked publicly, we recognize our job is to support kids,” she said.

But the report card found one continuous weakness: Agencies remain plagued by high staff turnovers.

Frank Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates, said that creates problems for children in the system and their families.

“You call a worker because you need something quickly and you don’t hear back for a week and then you learn, ‘Oh, that worker’s gone,’ and your call is out there in the netherland not being attended to,” he said.

Cervone added he’d like to see the report card include DHS itself, which still handles investigations and case closures.

“They need to be as accountable as their contract agents are,” he noted.

Figueroa agrees there’s much more to do, but given the chaos that followed the city’s shift to outside agencies for social work, the report shows the new system can work.

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Officials still searching for bear, now in Del. state park

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The elusive black bear that made its way from Delaware County, Pennsylvania down to the state of Delaware is still on the loose as of Friday morning. It was last seen at Alapocas Run State Park in Wilmington on Thursday.

While state officials try to safely capture the animal — with stale donuts and chocolate, apparently — the park trails are closed.

The bear was originally spotted in Villanova on Nov. 29. It ended up in the Delaware state park after going for quite the stroll Thursday morning, hopping through several backyards in Wilmington with natural resources officers and Pennsylvania Game Warden Jerry Czech close behind. 

Czech said their attempts to tranquilize the bear came up short.

“When the bear was running through the fences and jumping over fences, the dart came out. So, it didn’t look like much got into the bear. It didn’t get too lethargic,” he said.

It moved on to the state park, where Czech said a bear trap is set up. The hope is that the old donuts and chocolate that are inside will attract the sweet-toothed animal and end this wild bear chase.

“The bear would come up, eat some donuts or eat the bait, and then climb into the trap,” he explained. “There’s a pan in there, which, when it goes into the trap, it steps on that pan when it’s fully in the trap. The door closes. We have it in that steel trap and then we can transport it.”

Stay with KYW Newsradio for more #BearWatch coverage.

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KYW In Depth: A father waits for justice

21-year-old Kierra Johnson was found dead in Cobbs Creek in November of 2017. She had been beaten and strangled.

Months later, David Grier was arrested and charged with her murder. Since then, the case has been winding through the justice system, month by month, apperance by appearance.

More than two years after the killing, any time the case comes up in court, Rusten Johnson is there. He’s Kierra’s father, and he’s attended more than three dozen court appearances, sometimes waiting hours for Grier’s name to be called.

“I’m fighting,” Johnson tells ‘KYW In Depth,’ a new podcast from KYW Newsradio. “I’m doing everything I can do, within my power and within my knowledge, to have justice for my daughter. That’s it.”

In the inaugural episode, host Carol MacKenzie talks to Johnson about why he’s always sitting in that courtroom, what he ultimately wants, and what the long road of criminal justice feels like for the father of a murder victim in Philadelphia.

Each week, Each week, KYW In Depth will take you inside a story that matters to the Philadelphia region. With original reporting and compelling interviews, the most experienced news team in Philadephia radio goes beyond the headlines and into the captivating details surrounding a local story. Subscribe here, on the RADIO.COM app on your smartphone, or wherever you listen to podcasts. 

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Things to do in Philly this weekend, Dec. 6 to 8

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — This weekend blends the new, the old and the unusual.

The National Museum of American Jewish History is debuting its Jewish New Media Festival, dedicated to platforms that shape our society in the digital age. The weekend features discussions on virtual reality, live podcast episodes, and new media panelists, plus special guest and renowned producer Nancy Spielberg.

Out in the suburbs, holiday traditions take center stage via the annual Coatesville Christmas Parade, or holiday shopping, train rides and breakfast with Kris Kringle in Kutztown. Fleisher’s fifth annual holiday market offers handcrafted gifts from local vendors and artisans, too.

In the spirit of unconventional tidings, check out Dr. Mütter’s Merry Emporium at the Mütter Museum or the Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market. Both feature one-of-a-kind holiday markets, plus a change of pace for your Christmas cards: Take a pic with Surly Santa or the plague doctor himself.

Plan your time-honored traditions or your avant-garde outings with The KYW To-Do List, your guide for all things to do in the city and surrounding suburbs. Listen to our top picks below.

FESTIVALS & ATTRACTIONS

EVENT: Jewish New Media Festival

DATE: Saturday and Sunday

WHERE: National Museum of American Jewish History, 101 S. Independence Mall E., Center City

DETAILS: Share, celebrate and explore Jewish storytelling in the digital-global age. The works of established and emerging new media artists, media producers and other content creators will be on display. Check out the full lineup here.

PRICE: Two-day festival passes are $50; single-day tickets also available 

EVENT: Coatesville Christmas Parade

DATE/TIME: Saturday, 10 a.m.

WHERE: Click here for a map of the parade route

DETAILS: Bundle up for a festive holiday parade in Coatesville. There will be friendly competition among floats, groups, automobiles and more for best appearance. 

PRICE: Free to watch

EVENT: Christmas in Kutztown

DATE/TIME: Saturday, noon to 4 p.m.

WHERE: 200 block of West Main Street, Kutztown

DETAILS: There’s something to do for everyone in your family at this holiday event in Kutztown. Start the day with breakfast with Santa or write him a letter; decorate a cookie or make an ornament; get your holiday shopping done; and much more. 

PRICE: Free to attend

EVENT: Santa Claus train rides

DATE/TIME: Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

WHERE: Allentown and Auburn Railroad at 232 Railroad St., Kutztown

DETAILS: Santa will be onboard this special train ride. Get your photo taken with Saint Nick and do some holiday shopping in the Allentown and Auburn Gift Shop.

PRICE: $9 for ages 3 to 11; $15 for ages 12 and older; $13 for ages 65 and older

HOLIDAY MARKETS

EVENT: Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market: Holiday Edition

DATE/TIME: Saturday, noon to 7 p.m.

WHERE: Neshaminy Creek Brewing Co., 909 Ray Ave., Croydon

DETAILS: More than 185 vendor tables will pack the Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company, offering vintage items, handmade jewelry, comic books, posters, records and more. There will be food trucks and the opportunity to get your photo taken with Surly Santa. 

PRICE: $5 to attend

EVENT: Dr. Mütter’s Merry Emporium

DATE/TIME: Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

WHERE: Mütter Museum, 19 S. 22nd St., Philadelphia

DETAILS: Find Mütter-esque gifts for your loved ones in the historic Mitchell Hall, which will be transformed into a winter wonderland. More than two dozen vendors will have items for sale, including plague doctor cookies. 

PRICE: Free to attend; museum admission is not included

EVENT: Handmade

DATE/TIME: Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

WHERE: Fleisher Art Memorial, 719 Catharine St., Philadelphia

DETAILS: Get your holiday shopping done at this creative holiday market that showcases works from more than 30 artists. In conjunction with the market, there will also be three gift-making workshops. 

PRICE: Free to attend

MUSIC

EVENT: Anita Baker

DATE/TIME: Friday, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Liacouras Center, 1776 N. Broad St., North Philadelphia

PRICE: Tickets start at $60

EVENT: First Friday with Allen Pinkney, Jr.

DATE/TIME: Friday, 6 to 9 p.m.

WHERE: The Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia

PRICE: Tickets are $28 for non-members

EVENT: George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker’

DATE/TIME: Dec. 6 to 31; showtimes vary

WHERE: Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St., Philadelphia

PRICE: Tickets start at $45

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Jewish New Media Festival takes place in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The first Jewish New Media Festival opens at the National Museum of American Jewish History Saturday and Sunday. 

The festival is presented by the Gershman Philadelphia Film Festival. 

Kristen Evans, executive managing director of the Gershman and Philadelphia Jewish film festivals, explains it’s a weekend event unlike any other.

“New media is itself this idea that’s bringing together technology and art,” Evans said. 

Olivia Antsis, executive artistic director of the Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, said new media is a form of storytelling that’s really taken off in the past several years.

“Listening to podcasts or maybe they go to a specific website to get their news or even their Facebook feed. Perhaps they’re interested in a web series or they watch a Netflix show that they love,” Antsis said. 

She explained new media refers to digital technologies that use computers to create, share and communicate ideas. 

“We’re going to have panels that invite local artists, activists, to talk about how they use social media,” Antsis said. “We’re going to have panels to understand the importance of understanding disinformation. We’re going to have live podcasts.”

She says festival-goers will not only be entertained, but they’ll also learn how to use new technologies. 

Evans said over two days, there will be panels, workshops, and instructional sessions in which festival-goers will get to explore Jewish storytelling in this digital age.

For more information, visit https://pjff.org/jewish-new-media-festival.

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About 2,000 families receive scholarship for their kids

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Several families showed up to Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday for what they thought was only an interview for a tuition scholarship followed by a holiday party, but they were in for a big surprise.

“I was surprised because I thought it was a Christmas Party, and when they said she was awarded a scholarship I was like,” Necol Millsip gasped in excitement. 

She was one of the dozens who came out to learn of their new luck. 

Each family in attendance learned that they won a lottery for a four-year scholarship for their kids to attend grade school. 

Nigeria Rogers of Southwest Philadelphia is a mother of four, and says her oldest son is autistic and she’s excited to be able to put him in the healthy school environment he needs. 

“I’m so excited to be able to provide my kids with a better education, so that they can grow up and go to college as well and be successful,” she said.  

Out of the several thousand applications, about 2,000 families are chosen. NRG’s Dave Schrader says they’re happy to help the Children’s Scholarship Fund Philadelphia to make sure kids get the best education possible. 

“Every opportunity and every chance to improve the access to education and good education for children is something we want to be a part of,” he said. 

A team of volunteers from NRG and a couple of special guests from the Eagles spent the rest of the evening calling out the other hundreds of families who also won. 

Another scholarship drawing will happen in March, and applications for that are still being accepted.

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Philly City Council bans sale of flavored tobacco in city

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia City Council Thursday banned the sale of flavored tobacco products in the city. 

The bill targets smokeless tobacco and similar products, except for cigarettes, that are aimed at teenagers with flavors like bubblegum, grape, chocolate and strawberry. It had been sitting on Council’s calendar for more than a year and when the state passed preemptive legislation in 2018, it looked like it was dead. 

So it was a surprise when it was called up for a vote and passed unanimously.

“Timing is everything,” said sponsor Curtis Jones.

Related: Philly City Council announces bill in attempt to limit e-cigarette sales to minors

Jones said the element of surprise was a strategy to keep lobbyists from working on his Council colleagues to defeat the bill.

“One lobbyist came up to me and said, ‘you’re actually going to move that today?’ and I said, ‘yes,’ and he said, ‘well, we didn’t think’ and I said, ‘there you go. We don’t need to complete that sentence,'” Jones said.

He said Councilmembers who originally opposed the bill came around as Council debated prohibiting the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in any store that allows minors. That measure also passed at this week’s meeting. 

As for the state law preempting such bans, Jones believes there is no way for the state to enforce that law.

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5 schools moved out of lowest performing category

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Five Philadelphia schools are graduating out of the district’s lowest performance tier. 

The district next summer is moving five K-8 schools out of what it calls its “Acceleration Network,” currently a group of 19 low-performing schools getting extra staff training and resources.  

Those schools are Barry Elementary School, Dunbar Elementary School, McMichael School, Mitchell Elementary School and Munoz-Marin Elementary School, where principal Ariel Lajara said over the last three years his school jumped from 16% to 51% on the district’s School Progress Report.

“The staff has definitely rallied around the work that we’re doing. But we’re definitely staying grounded and level-headed because we know we still have a lot more work to do,” Lajara said.

Related: Philly school district launches plan to react more quickly to environmental concerns in schools

Munoz-Marin students passing standardized state tests in English went from 10% to 25%. Those passing math rose from 2% to 13%.

Lajara said even though his school is losing the extra supports, he and his staff have a structure in place to maintain the momentum.

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Students planning to walk out of school for climate strike

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Students are planning to walk out of school Friday for a City Hall rally to bring attention to climate change. 

Students are expected to converge on City Hall from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to take action against climate change. A similar rally Sept. 20 drew several thousand young people to the streets of Center City.  

School District of Philadelphia students who walked out during September’s climate strike were hit with an unexcused absence. This time, though, the district is allowing students, with a note from their parent or guardian, to attend the rally. 

Related: ‘It’s our Earth’: Philly students skip school to strike for climate change

Rachie Weisberg, one of the rally organizers, says that may attract more students.

“I’m not actually sure how much of an effect it’ll have but I definitely think it’ll help with turnout,” she said.

In a letter to parents this week, Superintendent William Hite wrote that in-school events were being organized to allow students to express their views without walking out of school.

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Advocates urge public to surrender illegal guns safely

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — After the recent rash of gun deaths involving children, anti-violence advocates are joining forces with police, City Council members and faith leaders to urge Philadelphians to search their homes for illegal guns. 

“This is a moral and spiritual issue that we have to address,” said Bilal Qayyum, president of the Father’s Day Rally Committee. The group organized a multi-pronged grassroots coalition to launch a “home gun check” campaign. 

The collective, which includes Nicetown CDC, Unity in the Community and several others, calls on parents and homeowners to search their children’s rooms, the backyard, the basement, garages and anywhere else in the home for illegal guns.

“If you happen to find a gun, turn it in — no questions asked,” said Qayyum, noting that this is not a gun buy-back effort. “We are not giving out gift certificates. We’re asking parents and individuals in this city to take responsibility.”

Guns can be dropped off at four safe locations across the city over the next two weekends. 

“I assure you that the deal is exactly what they are saying it is,” assured acting Police Commissioner Christine Coulter. “There will be no questions asked. We are not looking to take people into custody.”

Coulter said the effort uses trusted third-party community partners to collect the guns, ensuring that individuals turning them in will not face repercussions or be linked to the firearm.

City Council President Darrell Clarke said the next step is for legal gun owners to do their part as well.

“If you have a gun, lock the gun up when it’s not in use,” he said during a press conference.

Clarke said gun owners should use gun locks and safes and report firearms that are missing or stolen, or else face the consequences.

The locations, dates and times for safe firearms disposal are as follows:

Saturday, Dec. 7, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Bible Way Baptist Church, 1313 N. 52nd St., West Philadelphia

Every Murder is Real (EMIR) Healing Center, 59 E. Haines St., East Germantown

Saturday, Dec. 14, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Taylor Memorial Baptists Church, 3817 Germantown Ave., Hunting Park

Mother Bethel AME Church, 419 S. Sixth St., Society Hill

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Kenney wins concession from Council on tax abatement reform

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia City Council has amended its tax abatement phase-down plan, after Mayor Jim Kenney threatened to veto it. With the change, the new abatement plan will not take effect until next Dec. 31.

Mayor Kenney sent a letter to Council President Darrell Clarke saying, “if Council were to pass this Bill as currently proposed I will not sign it, and it will not become law.” 

Kenney said the July effective date could adversely affect developments in the works and cause a rush for building permits that the city wasn’t prepared to handle.

Should he get the bill as is, he wrote, “I look forward to working with (you and the other members of) the new Council on this issue in 2020.”

Related: Philly City Council passes tax abatement reform, but Kenney administration says not so fast

Faced with starting from scratch on tax abatement reform, Clarke responded that he understood Kenney’s concerns and, in the spirit of compromise, Council would amend the bill. 

Just two days ago, Council had resisted calls for amendments, but the date change passed 16 to 1, with only Councilmember Helen Gym voting against it. The bill is expected to get final Council approval next week.

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Man accused of killing ex-girlfriend, not guilt of assault

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — The man accused of shooting and killing a woman in her Montgomery County home last week, has just been found not guilty of assaulting her in Maryland. 

Jeanne Edwards, 57, was shot and killed in her home on Dale Road in Huntingdon Valley on Monday, Nov. 25. Her ex-boyfriend, William Torres, is charged with her murder. 

The Monday before the shooting, Torres was in court in Cecil County, Maryland, on a second-degree assault charge — similar to simple assault — involving Edwards.

Officials in Cecil County say, according to the police report, on the night of the incident, Edwards told police she was trying to end the relationship with Torres and was going to catch a flight. But she told police Torres tried to take her airline ticket and boarding pass, he tried to pull the luggage out of her car, and she tore her dress as he was physically restraining her. Shes said she kneed him in the head in an effort to get away from him.

But in court, according to transcripts, Edwards testified she was the one who started the physical confrontation and that Torres tore her dress by accident as he was trying to hold her back.

Related: Maryland man charged with fatally shooting ex-girlfriend in Huntingdon Valley

One week later, police say he bought a shotgun in Maryland and drove straight to Edwards’ home and shot her twice. The criminal complaint says Torres pointed the shotgun at her son as he left and said your mother ruined my life.

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