CHESTER>>A second suspect was charged Friday in connection with the Jan. 23 death of a 20-year-old city man, gunned down over what authorities believe was a secret affair with his best buddy’s girlfriend.
“As the result of unjustified retribution … Darnell Jamil Thomas planned and conspired to rob and kill the victim,” Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland said in announcing Thomas’ arrest.
In a joint release with Chester Police Commissioner Otis Blair, the district attorney further called the murder of 20-year-old Chadease Coleman “a calculated act of senseless violence.”
Coleman’s death was apparently the fallout over a secret romance the victim was having with a woman who had been dating his best friend, according to documents filed in the case.
Thomas, 30, of the first block of West 21st Street in Chester, is charged with first-, second- and third-degree murder, robbery, possession of a firearm without a license, possession of instruments of crime, and conspiracy to commit robbery and first-degree murder.
A co-defendant in the case, 31-year-old Matthew Leopold of Chester, was charged with similar offenses back in March, and waived a preliminary hearing on all charges last week.
Both Thomas and Leopold are being held without bail at the county prison.
Thomas was already incarcerated at the county prison on charges involving an unrelated Chester shooting in March of 2017, city Police Chief James Nolan IV and city Detective Steven Byrne said Friday.
As many as six witnesses combined with video, cell phone records and social media accounts led to the initial charges being filed against Leopold, authorities said at the time of his arrest. While the affidavit in the Thomas case was not immediately available, authorities said details were similar as those disclosed in the affidavit against Leopold.
“As a result of cooperation and assistance with the community, we were able to make two arrests in this case,” Copeland said Friday, lauding the combined efforts of Detective David J. DeFrank of the Chester Police Department and detectives Timothy Deery and Vincent Ficchi of the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division.
It was shortly after 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 23 when city police responded to the 500 block of Mosley Court in Chester for a report of a shooting victim. Arriving officers found Coleman seated in his vehicle, a white Kia sport utility vehicle, and suffering from gunshot wounds. Coleman was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police had confirmed that Coleman was the driver of the vehicle and two small children were in the back seat when the gunfire erupted. The gunmen’s getaway vehicle was described as a black sedan with two red Christmas blows on the front of the vehicle.
According to authorities, one of the witnesses in the case was dating Coleman’s best friend from October through December 2017. That same witness began to secretly date Coleman – behind Coleman’s best friend’s back.
A fourth person was in the vehicle with Coleman when he was shot. In charging documents, that individual is identified as Witness No. 1 – who was dating Coleman’s best friend. Coleman’s best friend is labeled as Witness No. 2 in the same documents.
“Witness No. 1 indicated that Witness No. 2 found out about the relationship in the middle of December and there was friction and harsh feelings between Coleman and Witness No. 2, who had been best friends for a long period of time until the secret relationship was discovered by Witness No. 2,” according to the Leopold affidavit.
According to the affidavit, Witness 1 is the individual who was in the car with Coleman when he was shot. Witness 2 is Coleman’s best friend – whom Witness 1 had been dating before the secret relationship with Coleman.
Witness 1 told authorities that on Jan. 6, Coleman reportedly confronted Witness 2, and the situation escalated into a fight with Witness 2 requiring medical attention at a hospital. Prior to that confrontation, according to the district attorney’s office, there were several hostile and threatening messages sent, and posted through social media between Coleman and Witness 2.
Following the hospital visit, Witness 2 returned to a residence in Chester. Leopold showed up at the house and told Witness 2 to take a ride with him. Witness 2 reportedly got into Leopold’s black Tahoe and was introduced to “Dar,” a man later identified as Darnell Thomas. Thomas was seated in the front passenger seat, wearing a ski mask and a hoodie over his head.
According to charges, Witness No. 2 said that they then picked up another male from the area of the McCaffery Village Housing project. A third man in the vehicle has not been identified.
Witness No. 2 said that when he/she asked Leopold what they were doing, both Leopold and “Dar” said that when “it goes down,” Witness No. 2 was going to have to leave the area and stay out of sight for a while.
“Witness No. 2 said they then drove around Chester looking for Coleman’s white Kia,” according to charges. “Witness No. 2 believed ‘Dar’ and Leopold were going to attempt to kill Coleman if they found him.”
Witness 2 reportedly told the pair, “Listen, there’s no reason to take anybody’s life over this. This is stupid; there’s no point in doing this – it’s not that serious,” according to the affidavit.
On the morning of Jan. 23, Coleman left for work from his paternal grandmother’s house in North Philadelphia about 11:30 a.m. Coleman returned home from work around 6:30 p.m.
“Coleman received a call from his mother … in Chester. (She) requested Coleman bring her some money that he owed her,” the affidavit states. “Coleman indicated he would drive the money down.”
According to the affidavit, Coleman was accompanied by Witness 1 and two children.
While they were en route to Chester, Coleman’s mother called her son and requested that he stop at a store to buy her some drinks. He stopped at a gas station/convenience store at Ninth and Tilghman streets in Chester.
As he was pulling out of the station, a black Lincoln Town Car with red Christmas bows attached to the front grill appeared and it “blocked them in,” Witness 1 told investigators, according to an affidavit. The front driver’s window of the Lincoln was down and Witness 1 recognized the driver as “Matthew,” referring to Leopold.
Coleman proceeded to drive to his mother’s residence on Mosley Court. As they turned onto the block, the same black Lincoln drove toward the Kia, travelling the wrong way on a one-way street.
“Coleman had to stop his vehicle or he would have run head on into the Lincoln,” the affidavit states. The driver exited the Lincoln and approached the driver’s side of the Kia. Coleman exited the Kia.
Thomas is believed to be one of two who fired on the victim, city Detective Byrne said Friday. An investigation is continuing into the third suspect, who police said also fired on the victim.
Leopold is not believed to have fired on the victim.
At the time of his client’s arrest, defense attorney Michael Harris Fienman said Leopold denied all the allegations lodged against him.
On July 30, Leopold waived a preliminary hearing on first-degree and all related charges involving the Coleman homicide, according to online court records.
Defense attorney Stephen P. Patrizio is representing Thomas in the 2017 shooting case. Patrizio said Friday that he was contacted by Thomas’ family but was not retained to represent him on charges in the Coleman homicide. Thomas is listed to appear for a preliminary hearing Sept. 12 in Magisterial District Judge Spencer B. Seaton Jr.’s court in Chester on the homicide and related offenses.
Meanwhile, Thomas is listed to appear Monday in Magisterial District Judge Wilden H. Davis’ court in Chester for a preliminary hearing on the charges in the unrelated 2017 shooting case.