Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Frankford Slasher

Wrap Up

Prosecutor Rubino countered McMahon's presentation with the fact that when the store opened on the morning after the Dowd murder, Christopher had reported to his boss, Jaesa Phang, that a white woman about forty-five years old had been murdered in the alley, but the police had not revealed those details to anyone.  In fact, just a few days after the stabbing death, he had also made a strange comment to Phang:   "Maybe I killed her."  Although he quickly recanted, it was a remark that his employer would remember, especially because he seemed not only quite serious about it, but remarkably curious about the incident itself.  Christopher, Phang said, had gestured with the motions of gutting a person as he described the crime.  He claimed to have seen a white man on the street at 1:00 A.M., but no one else had reported that.   Instead, the only witnesses that police had from the streets that night had all seen Christopher.

Philadelphia District Attorney logo
Philadelphia District Attorney
logo

Phang testified on December 3 that Christopher had told her about five days after the murder that he had been unable to sleep well because he had witnessed a murder.  His speech was rambling and his manner agitated.  He said that he thought a white man who knew he'd seen it was trying to kill him.  He believed that the man could get into his apartment and would hide in the closet.  The next day, Christopher was arrested.

For physical evidence, the prosecution had found a tiny spot of blood on Christopher's trousers, but it was too small to type, and DNA analysis at that time was still being challenged in many courts.  It was also not yet available for such minute amounts of biological evidence, and was quite expensive.   The police had also found a bloodstained tissue that proved to be Type O—Dowd's blood type—in a driveway next to the building where Christopher's apartment was.  But Christopher had told police in statements read to the jury that while he was at his girlfriend's apartment, he had seen a well-dressed white man in his forties outside that night wiping his hands on something that looked like a handkerchief or tissue.  The problem was, Christopher had not been in that apartment.

The trial was short, and closing arguments came quickly on December 11.  McMahon emphasized Christopher's good character and the fact that such violence of which he was accused was completely out of character for him.  The prosecution had offered no motive, no weapon, and no solid evidence.    And his statement about the white man on the night of the murder fit the description given by other witnesses about men they had seen with earlier victims.  "It just doesn't make sense," McMahon said about the prosecution's scenario.  He told reporters on December 11 after it went to the jury, "The case stinks.  It's garbage."

But ADA Rubino asked what motive the witnesses had for lying.  In fact, some of them were friends with Christopher, including the one who had lied on his behalf to the police.  There was no reason for that witness to ultimately change her story other than wanting to finally tell the truth.  In addition, Rubino reminded the jury that she had presented two other witnesses who had seen Christopher talking to Dowd in a bar at midnight of the night she was murdered. She had also offered testimony from Christopher's girlfriend, Vivien Carter, that he had not been with her that night, as he had claimed.  Rubino closed with an emotional appeal that included what Carol Dowd must have experienced as she was being attacked with a knife and slashed to death.  She knew her death was coming.  The cuts to her hands told the story.

Once the arguments were done, the judge instructed the jury.  They deliberated for more than four hours before he ended the session and sequestered them for the night.  By the next day, it was apparent that the jury believed the prosecution's case.  On December 12, after four more hours of deliberations, they convicted Christopher of the first-degree murder of Carol Dowd.  A few members were visibly upset.

SCI Huntingdon, where Leonard Christopher is incarcerated
SCI Huntingdon, where Leonard
Christopher is incarcerated

"Christopher showed no visible reaction," wrote Linda Loyd in the Philadelphia Inquirer, but "his defense attorney shook his head in disbelief."  Although the prosecutor had asked for the death penalty, Christopher was sentenced to life in prison, but his own reaction was that he had been railroaded by "pipers" (prostitutes cajoled into testifying by the police).  Apart from his strange admission to his boss, he had confessed to nothing.  McMahon indicated that "the real killer [whom Christopher referred to as the Northeast Stalker] may still be out there."

Was he right?

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