The Philadelphia Inquirer

April 29, 2006


Finally, Patricia Arnold hoped, they would redeem themselves and apologize for killing her son, a 10-year-old boy whose only crime was walking to school.

Instead, convicted murderers Kareem Johnson and Kennell Spady gave angry, expletive-filled speeches in court yesterday, cursing the dead boy, his family, the prosecutors and police.

Johnson, 22, turned to the family of Faheem Thomas-Childs and announced that since the family didn’t care about his life, he didn’t care about Faheem’s. He denounced them, Faheem, the police who had arrested him, and the prosecutors who had tried him.

Spady, 21, also shouted curses, and promised that he would haunt the boy’s family until his final appeal.

The jaw-dropping outbursts inspired some of the men’s supporters to join in the fray, raising their voices until security ejected them from the courtroom. One woman yelled, “We love you.”

Moments later, Common Pleas Court Judge Jane Cutler Greenspan sentenced the two men to life in prison plus at least 23 more years in connection with the death of Faheem, who was shot outside North Philadelphia’s T.M. Peirce Elementary School on Feb. 11, 2004.

“It’s hard to understand the depths of evil coming out of these two men,” Greenspan said. “The tragedy of this case is beyond recognition.”

Through it all, Patricia Arnold sat quietly. She did not flinch when Johnson and Spady hurled their hate her way. She did not turn when the spectators behind her yelled and cursed. She softly assured worried family members that she was “all right, all right,” accepting their hugs and pats without comment. She did not cry.

Because, for Arnold, the worst has already happened.

Patricia Arnold and her daughters left their North Philadelphia home before 9 a.m. yesterday, anxious to catch the bus and take their seats in the courtroom before the proceedings began. Daughters Turquoise, 18, and Elvina, 17, talked and teased each other as they walked. Their mother was silent.

She suddenly stopped about a block short of the bus stop. The tokens. She couldn’t find the tokens. She searched through her purse and wallet, handing items to her daughters to hold as she rustled through her bag. The tokens weren’t there.

Then she remembered something else: the picture. They wanted her to bring Faheem’s picture, one larger than the locket-sized image she wore around her neck. “Do you have a picture of your brother?” she asked her daughters, renewing her hunt.

She finally found an oversized wallet photo, sealed in plastic. It was Faheem’s class picture, the image that would become synonymous with senseless violence in the city.

The bus arrived. The girls immediately met a friend and began talking to her and her children. Their mother sat alone, looking out the window.

“I just want it to be over with,” she said.

It took about a half-hour for the bus to get to Center City, to come down Market Street, to partially circle City Hall. Once inside the courthouse, the family members turned in their cellular telephones and waited amid the crowd for a free elevator to the sixth floor.

Outside the court room, Patricia Arnold was greeted by three more family members. They hugged. She told them she was all right.

Arnold’s cousin, Melissa Bullock, had typed up the victim-impact statement. Arnold began to read it while standing and then, as if the words were too much, leaned her side against the wall.

“Are you OK, baby?” asked her aunt, Joanne Bullock.

She nodded.

The sentencing didn’t start on time. Sitting in the hallway with 45 minutes to fill, the family told Faheem stories: How Faheem was an unfussy baby and a quiet, respectful child. How Faheem had not cried the day he had needed 18 stitches in his leg, how he was not afraid to walk home in the dark even though his mother told him not to, how he lay in his hospital bed after the shooting, so still and yet so seemingly unharmed.

Dozens of family members had come to visit him there. No one was allowed to cry, because Arnold did not want her son to hear they were upset. So they sang – “We Are the World,” “I Believe I Can Fly” – and told jokes.

For five days, Faheem held on.

“He stayed and listened to everybody,” his mother said. “He was so warm and beautiful.”

There was never a doubt that Kennell Spady and Kevin Johnson would get life imprisonment. The sentences were automatic after Judge Greenspan found them guilty of first-degree murder during a nonjury trial in March.

What was in question was whether Greenspan would add additional years for the other charges, including the wounding of a crossing guard who was shot in the leg.

The defense attorneys made their pleas: Johnson, one of seven children, never knew his mother until he ran into her on a street one day. Spady was a product of his environment, which consisted of drugs, guns and violence.

To add more years onto a life sentence, the lawyers argued, would be vengeful.

Janita Smith, Arnold’s cousin, read the victim-impact statement. She described how Faheem had kissed his mother goodbye that day and scurried to school without his sisters. He shrugged off his mother’s standard parting words: Watch for cars, look around you, and if you hear gunshots, duck and stay down.

More than 90 bullets flew across the schoolyard that day as rival drug gangs emptied their weapons at each other. One hit Faheem in the head.

“You took my son’s life and you tore my family apart,” Smith read from Arnold’s statement. “I will never get to see my son go to high school, finish college, get married, have children… ”

Greenspan offered the defendants a chance to speak. Johnson’s lawyer advised him not to. Johnson did not listen. He turned his head towards Faheem’s family.

“You don’t give a f- about my life, and I don’t give a f- about his life… F- him,” Johnson proclaimed.

The words provoked some supporters. “Love you, Nell! Love you, Reem!” two girls shouted before being ejected.

When things settled, Greenspan addressed the court, noting the “incredible anger” emanating from both men. Both, she said, showed no sign of ever being rehabilitated.

She then set their course.

Spady had the last word. As he was led away, he shouted, “I’ll haunt you motherf- until my appeal comes.”

Arnold and her daughters walked through the crowd of cameras and reporters outside the courthouse without stopping.

On a street corner across from City Hall, the family discussed what they had just seen.

“This is it? They curse? They don’t say they’re sorry?” Joanne Bullock asked.

Arnold shook her head. “I can’t see how people can be so mad at you – and they’re the ones who did it to your family.”

A group of Spady’s and Johnson’s friends pushed by on their way to the bus stop, loudly complaining about the injustice done their pals.

“They all have to go back to the same neighborhood,” Melissa Bullock said. “It’s going to be a long bus ride.”

Arnold took the first seat on the left. Her daughters sat across from her. The defendants’ friends and family sat toward the middle.

As the bus traveled north, Turquoise and Elvina talked and teased and made plans for the rest of the day. But still, from the middle of the bus, occasional raised voices accusingly talked about “the law” and “how things just ain’t right.”

Arnold turned her head to the right, looked out the front window, and stayed silent all the way home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *