A former Philadelphia police officer was acquitted yesterday of murder charges in the fatal beating of a cab driver in 1992, two years before he joined the force.
Rance Morgan, 28, who was assigned to the 16th District in West Philadelphia, and two friends were arrested last March and charged in the March 1, 1992, beating death of cab driver Kenneth Bellamy, 43.While Common Pleas Court Judge Lisa R. Richette, who heard the case without a jury, acquitted Morgan, she convicted James Benjamin, 29, of involuntary manslaughter and his twin brother, Darryl Benjamin, of voluntary manslaughter.
Richette had noted that the only evidence against Morgan were statements that police and the FBI attributed to a friend of the defendant.
That friend, Thomas Martin, testified at an earlier court hearing and at trial that police got it wrong. He said he told authorities only that Morgan had told him he had chased and fought with a motorist who hit his car – and not that it was a taxi driver.
Martin told the judge this week that he did not even remember the year when Morgan talked to him about the fight. He denied words attributed to him in an FBI report and a police statement that he signed.
The Benjamin brothers gave statements to police admitting their own roles in the attack, but their statements were redacted, or edited, at trial to omit the names of codefendants, in accordance with the law. Richette did not hear the brothers’ original statements in which they also implicated Morgan, police said.
Bellamy, of West Philadelphia, was driving south with his girlfriend in the passenger seat about 2 a.m. when his cab struck a car from behind at Broad Street and Hunting Park Avenue. Bellamy continued, but was pursued by the car, police said.
Assistant District Attorney Randolph Williams contended that Morgan and the Benjamin brothers chased Bellamy and caught up with him in the 1500 block of Norris Street. The three then pulled Bellamy from his car and began beating him, the prosecutor said.
Bellamy’s girlfriend, Diantha Vereen, testified that she saw three men with a baseball bat beat her friend, but she could not identify the assailants.
Bellamy died at Temple University Hospital 12 days later.
After his acquittal, Morgan expressed relief and tearfully hugged his family. Defense attorney Brian McMonagle, who contended that Morgan was innocent and the victim of rumors, said his client, who was dismissed from the department after his arrest, would seek reinstatement.