Juries found only one of the defendants guilty of the researcher's murder. and Ben Geldon Two juries have decided the fates of two people on trial for the October 1996 stabbing death of University biochemist Vladimir Sled. And although the verdicts in the back-to-back, six-day trials differed, both defendants will be spending a long time in prison. Eugene "Sultan" Harrison, 33, who started the incident by attempting to snatch Sled's fiancee's purse, was acquitted on May 5 of murder. A jury did, however, convict him of robbery and other charges. Harrison faces 32 1/2 to 65 years in prison for the Sled incident as well as for robbing a Philadelphia Daily News driver of $600 in cash earlier that day. On the other hand, Yvette Stewart, 30, who drove the getaway car, was convicted Wednesday of third-degree murder. That's a lesser charge than second-degree murder, which the prosecution wanted and which carries a life sentence. Stewart's jury also returned guilty verdicts on charges for both the Sled and Daily News incidents. She faces 47 to 94 years in jail. The third defendant, Bridgette Black, 27, officially pleaded guilty Wednesday, as expected, to stabbing and murdering Sled. A judge will decide later this month what degree of murder she is guilty of at a continuation of this week's hearing. Harrison and Stewart will be sentenced by a judge in September. Sled, a popular and well-respected researcher who came to Penn from Russia in 1992, was stabbed to death on October 31, 1996, four days after his 38th birthday, on the 4300 block of Larchwood Avenue. Sled and his Swedish-born fiancee and colleague, then-University researcher Cecilia Hagerhall, were walking to their home at 44th Street and Osage Avenue when Harrison jumped on Hagerhall and tried to take her purse. Sled, attempting to protect Hagerhall, struggled and fought with Harrison. In the melee that ensued, Black got out of Harrison's stolen sedan and swung her knife around, stabbing Sled five times -- including a fatal strike to his heart. Stewart drove the car up and allegedly fired a gun at least once -- but didn't hit anyone -- before the trio fled from the scene. The slaying, at about 11 p.m. on Halloween night, shook the University community. It was the first homicide of a Penn employee or student in nearly 2 1/2 years. Assistant District Attorney Dick Carroll, who is prosecuting the entire case, said he was not entirely sure why Harrison got off on the murder charge while Stewart didn't. "The case was stronger against Stewart," Carroll said Wednesday after her trial ended. "Harrison's case had the air of a poor slob who couldn't do any better than get beat up by his victims." He added that he "cannot quarrel with [Stewart's] verdict at all." Harrison was "very, very pleased" with his verdict, according to his court-appointed attorney, Tariq El-Shabazz. El-Shabazz had told the jury during opening and closing statements that the defendant admitted to the robberies but was not responsible for the killings. "I think the verdict accurately reflects my client's culpability," El-Shabazz said after the jury's May 7 decision. Stewart's court-appointed attorney, Lee Mandell, was not immediately available for comment. In Harrison's trial, which had begun April 28 with jury selection, Carroll argued that since the murder was committed as a direct result of the robbery -- which Harrison masterminded -- he is guilty of murder as well under Pennsylvania law. El-Shabazz argued, however, that his client should not be condemned for a crime he did not plan or have any part in committing. Harrison, of the 5200 block of Arch Street, had been arrested a half-dozen times since 1984 on various charges including illegal firearms possession, robbery and resisting arrest. But only once did he get a penalty -- two years of probation in 1995 for theft, according to Philadelphia court records. Harrison offered to plead guilty in exchange for 30 to 60 years in prison, Carroll said last week. But the District Attorney's office decided to take the case to trial, he said. Stewart's trial, which immediately followed Harrison's, was more hotly contested, however. Much of the controversy centered on the Daily News driver's failure to identify Stewart in a police lineup, a point Mandell stressed throughout the trial as casting reasonable doubt on Stewart's alleged presence as the getaway-car driver in that robbery. But Carroll said the January 1997 lineup was unfair to begin with. Although Arthur Palestini, 53, testified that he briefly saw a black woman with blond, medium-length hair from the car's side -- a description fitting Stewart at the time of her arrest three weeks later -- Stewart showed up for the lineup with short, dark hair. The woman Palestini misidentified as Stewart had medium-length, dark hair. At the trial, Stewart had medium-length, dark hair. In addition, William Wynn, lineup supervisor for the Philadelphia Police Department, testified that there weren't enough black women with blond hair for a six-person lineup. During the murder, a hood and scarf covered Stewart's head and hair, Black and Hagerhall said. The prosecution's murder case against Stewart relied heavily on the testimony of Black, a prostitute who knew Stewart for a year but had not met Harrison before that night. Black testified that she expected Harrison to give her and Stewart a ride to Center City, where they would both prostitute themselves. The two would then use their money to hitch a ride to the Washington, D.C., area, where Black had previously lived. The three smoked crack in the car, according to Stewart's statement. Black said only Stewart and Harrison used the drugs. Harrison was planning to rob someone that night, and Stewart knew of the plans, Black testified. Stewart was about to get out of the car to help Harrison when Black, seeing her handgun, told her to stay and got out instead, Black said. As Harrison and Black fought with Sled and Hagerhall, Stewart fired her gun, according to Black. Sled immediately fell to the ground, and everyone initially thought he had been shot. But an autopsy revealed only stab wounds, and no gun or bullets were ever recovered. Stewart, who had a dozen arrests and several convictions before October 1996, denied having a gun, though she said in a statement given to police after her arrest that she had heard a gunshot.The jury convicted Stewart of possessing an instrument of crime. But Mandell challenged the validity of Black's testimony, suggesting that she may have embellished it to implicate Stewart. Although Black maintained that she had no deal or plea bargain with the prosecution and that no one forced her to testify, she said on the witness stand that she believes she will get a "benefit" from testifying. "Who does she have to please? The prosecution," Mandell told the jury in his closing statement. Carroll bristled at that suggestion, raising his voice for the first time during the trial in his closing statement, which followed Mandell's. Carroll argued that since Mandell never challenged the validity of Black's November 1996 statement against her testimony, Mandell could not argue that Black had changed her tune in any way. Although it is unclear why Black chose to plead guilty to all charges, her statement indicates that she felt extreme remorse over the killing. Black had no prior criminal record in Philadelphia. The prosecution also relied on testimony from Hagerhall, who flew in from Sweden and took the stand twice in one week, on May 4 and May 8, to fit her flight schedule. Carroll had originally hoped to try Harrison and Stewart together, but the U.S. Supreme Court recently made it tougher for prosecutors to use a defendant's statement against a co-defendant. The ruling led Carroll -- at the behest of Common Pleas Judge Eugene Clarke Jr. -- to decide April 27 to separate the trials. Clarke presided over both trials, which took place in room 702 of the Criminal Justice Center at 13th and Filbert streets. Each jury deliberated for about three hours before reaching its verdict. Daily Pennsylvanian staff writers Binyamin Appelbaum and Maureen Tkacik contributed to this article.Comments powered by Disqus
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