Philadelphia prosecutors admitted Wednesday that “balls were dropped” after it came to light that the first suspect accused of killing Temple University graduate Milan Loncar while he was out walking his dog had been freed from jail just two weeks before the fatal attack.
A second person of interest has since been identified and taken into custody, Philadelphia Police Capt. Jason Smith said during a news conference held at police headquarters Wednesday, declining to release the male suspect’s name, pending further investigation.
“I’m sure that many balls were dropped in this case, and that will be looked at,” Joanne Pescatore, assistant chief of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office’s homicide unit, said during the news conference.
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“His bail should not have been lowered, it was lowered to an extremely low level — such a level that he could make that bail,” Pescatore said, referring to 20-year-old Josephus Davis, the first suspect charged in Loncar’s murder. “We are looking into the fact of whether or not we filed an appeal, we did object at the time that that bail was lowered on both of those cases.”
District Attorney Larry Krasner — who’s up for reelection in May — on Wednesday released additional details about Davis’ criminal history and his office’s effort to keep him behind bars, decrying “those who want to weaponize this tragedy to lay blame on our prosecutors.”
He rejected criticism from the city’s police union, some police officials and his political opponent, Carlos Vegas, who have all argued that if it weren’t for Krasner’s “dangerous bail policy” that put Davis — a twice-convicted felon — back on the streets, Loncar would still be alive.
In an effort to set “the record straight,” Krasner maintained in a lengthy statement that his prosecutors asked the courts to keep Davis detained four consecutive times — but bail was eventually lowered by a judge.
Davis reportedly paid a total of $3,200 in bail before he was freed on Dec. 29, 2020.
Sixteen days later, surveillance video showed Loncar had been walking his dog in the 300 block of West Jefferson Street on Jan. 13 when he was approached by two males, both wearing dark clothes and masks, just before 7 p.m.
Police said one of the individuals pointed a handgun at Loncar, and both proceeded to reach toward Loncar’s pants pockets. Loncar was shot once in the chest, and the two males fled down 31st Street, police said. The motive appeared to be attempted robbery, according to investigators.
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Davis was arrested about two hours later when police pulled over the vehicle he was driving, which had been reported stolen in an unrelated carjacking the day earlier. Police said four other men in the car fled.
“It is outrageous that a family’s tragic loss and trauma is being weaponized for political sport,” Krasner wrote in his statement, arguing that attacks attributing Loncar’s death to policies from his office “are grotesque lies about how the criminal legal system actually operates.”
In February 2020, police identified Davis as having had committed a motor vehicle theft, kidnapping and aggravated assault in July 2019, Krasner’s statement explained. At that time, Davis was in prison serving two concurrent sentences for prior robbery offenses.
“To ensure that he would not be released from custody on the new charges even after he finished serving his robbery sentences, our office requested that the court set bail at $250,000. The bail magistrate, however, denied our prosecutor’s request, and instead set bail at $100,000,” Krasner said.
In September 2020, while Davis remained incarcerated, the district attorney’s office filed additional charges against him following an assault on a corrections officer.
“Out of belief that Davis could not safely be released ahead of trial on the new charges and consistent with our office’s COVID-19 policies, our office requested bail be set at $999,999. Again, the bail magistrate instead set much lower bail, this time at $200,000,” Krasner wrote.
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Court records show a judge lowered the $100,000 bail to just $20,000. Davis posted the required 10% — $2,000. A second judge lowered the $200,000 bail to just $12,000. Davis paid $1,200.
Suggesting his critics in some way aligned with former President Trump, Krasner added: “Those claiming this devastating murder happened because of a ‘lenient’ bail policy in my office are lying, and they surely know it. The loudest of those voices embraced Trumpian disdain for truth and facts long ago.”
Krasner laid blame to “Pennsylvania’s deeply flawed cash bail system,” which he argues “often results in people who are poor or in need of counseling and treatment being needlessly incarcerated, while truly dangerous people — like Josephus Davis — are able to pay their way back into our communities.” He also pointed to a lack of “substantive pretrial interviews or services after the initial bail setting to allow criminal legal system partners to make more informed decisions.”
“I challenge those who are truly interested in making sure the criminal legal system works in service of justice and public safety to join our office in seeking to reform the pre-trial system. Anything less than meaningful action is just ghoulish, self-serving politics,” he wrote.
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Meanwhile, back at the Wednesday news conference at police headquarters, Smith rejected arguments that an arrest came quickly following Loncar’s murder solely because the victim was White.
“We work every single homicide the same exact way, it does not matter,” Smith said. “The tips that we began receiving into the homicide unit enabled us to quickly develop our suspects. That’s the difference.”