Telling the tragedy


Weeks after Antonne Jones’ third book and documentary DVD, "The Lex Street Massacre," was released June 18, an interview with one of the four convicted killers serving a life term came through — proving timing is indeed everything.

As the 35-year-old sat across from Shihean Black, formerly of 17th and Siegel streets and now incarcerated at SCI Greene Prison in Waynesburg, he asked the 25-year-old if he was sorry for what he had done. His face cradled in his hand, Black slowly shook his head "no."

Jones’ interview with Black will appear in the next printing.

The worst mass murder in Philadelphia history is chronicled in chilling detail — from the night it happened, to the wrongful imprisonment of four men, to the trial’s conclusion when the real killers were brought to justice — in Jones’ latest book.

It wasn’t a macabre fascination with the killings, but a personal history of crime and drugs that influenced, in part, the author’s decision to tackle the story. "I was that 15-year-old kid in that house," he said of teenage victim Malik Harris. "I saw myself in that."

The sensitivity needed in writing about the Lex Street massacre did not intimidate Jones. "One of the challenges for me was to remain neutral and not allow my personal feelings to overshadow the facts and become persuasive. I didn’t want to play the blame game or become dogmatic toward anyone that was involved. It was and still is a very emotional and tragic story, so I took extreme precaution when writing the book and producing the documentary," he said.

The journey started for Jones — who spent his life in South Philly before moving to Fairmount last year — decades ago.

C.P. Mirarchi 3d, an attorney who helped Jones with the book, and the author got to know each other some 12 years ago, and not under the most idyllic circumstances.

While attending Roman Catholic High School in the late 1980s, Jones fell in with the wrong crowd. Discounting peer pressure, Jones said his bad decisions were solely his own and he knew exactly what he was doing. "I was a good kid who got temporarily derailed. I was a bad kid who became a good kid again," the writer said.

Jones began selling and using drugs and even did court-ordered rehab in the now-defunct Mount Sinai, formerly of Fourth and Reed streets. Arrested three times, in ’91 he was nabbed for trafficking in Delaware. After making bail, he missed upcoming court dates, which rendered him a fugitive.

But, as if leading a double life, Jones was pursuing an education while pushing, he said. Majoring in criminal justice, he spent close to two years in college at three different institutions, University of Akron, Arkansas State and Cheyney, but never graduated.

In ’95, he decided to get clean, a move inspired by the birth of his first daughter, Shatora, now 16. Daughter Amani, 11, and wife Tamara round out the family. "That was my golden girl," he says of his first born. "I really wanted to make changes. I was tired of living like that. It wasn’t progressive. I knew I had a lot more intelligence than that and I wanted to be around to see my daughter grow up."

Jones got a job with Home Depot on Columbus Boulevard. But soon his past caught up with him. One day, two South Detectives showed up at his work. Allowing some dignity, they did not cuff the fugitive, but quietly led him off the premises, Jones said. "It was very embarrassing. I was actually a very good employee," he added.

In need of representation, Jones found Mirarchi through an ad in the Review.

The attorney got his client a year non-reporting probation. Commenting on the young man shaping up, the attorney said, "He’s an example of what you can do if you say, ‘I rethink this and want to change my life,’" Mirarchi said.

In ’97, Jones wrote his first book, "The Family — A Philadelphia Mob Story" and published it two years later. "The Family II" was written in 2004 and published the following year. Despite their "Godfather"-like titles, the books actually chronicle the black mafia that rose at 20th and Carpenter streets in the ’60s and ’70s, Jones said. Though fictional, the books are based in truth and are still required reading in many junior high and high schools in the state, Jones added. To date, both have sold more than 150,000 copies.

As far as his position as a one-time delinquent turned successful entrepreneur, Jones is modest. "I do not feel as though I am a role model, but rather a person who turned a negative situation into a positive. As an imperfect person, I do not feel as though I qualify for such a lofty title," he said.

The crime at the center of Jones’ latest book went down a few nights past Christmas in 2000. Dec. 28 of that year, 10 people were shot inside a crack house in the Mill Creek section of West Philadelphia north of Market Street, south of Girard Avenue and between 44th and 52nd streets.

Positioned in a semi-circle on the first floor of the dilapidated home at 716 Lex St. were decedents Ronnette Adams, 33; Alfred Goodwin, 54; Harris; Calvin Helton, 19; Tyrone Long Jr., 18; George Porter, 18; and Edward Sudler, 44. All in their 40s at the time, Bruce Carter, Craig Kilby and Tyrone Long’s aunt, Yvette, survived.

Goodwin was a South Philly resident whose wife and family did not know of his addiction or his mistress, Yvette Long, according to court records.

However, "The Lex Street Massacre" is not a salacious read nor does it feature photographs of the grisly crime scene or its victims. In fact, Jones refused to even print a picture of the house, which burned down in later years and is now a re-built home. "I did not sensationalize or get too graphic regarding the murders out of respect for the victims and their families. I felt as though they dealt with enough hardship with this tragedy and didn’t want to make it worse," he said.

Shortly after the killings, police charged Jermel Lewis, 23, Hezekiah Thomas, 23, Sacon Youk, 19, and Quiante Perrin, 19. (All ages are at the time of the incident.)

Prosecutor Roger King charged full-steam ahead with what, at the time, the District Attorney’s Office said it considered a slam-dunk because they had the right people in custody. Despite the claim, the prosecution had no physical evidence tying the four to the scene. The only evidence was Yvette Long’s account of what happened and Lewis’ confession, which many said was coerced and he later recanted, stating it was forced.

After 15 months of preparation and the trial less than three months away, a judge dropped all charges against the four, freeing them after 18 months in jail.

The wrongly incarcerated sued and received a $1.9 million settlement split four ways after attorneys’ fees.

Nov. 26, 2002, Black, Bruce Veney, 26, and brothers Khalid, 26, and Dawud "David" Faruqi, 27, were charged with seven counts of murder and related offenses. All had extensive criminal pasts, including federal gun charges for David Faruqi, and he and Black were later charged for a Nov. 25, 2000, shooting at 18th and Morris streets that left a 17- and 25-year-old in serious condition, according to police records. Like Black, the siblings are serving seven consecutive life sentences and a loss of their right to appeal. For his cooperation, Veney received a 15- to 30- year term.

The Philadelphia Police Department and DA’s office did not cooperate with Jones on his book, which took four months to write beginning in January. "They have never provided an answer why they never wanted to talk," Jones said.

However, plenty of others were more than willing to help, including judges, suspects and others close to the case, like Mirarchi and South Philly defense attorney Nino Tinari, who represented Thomas.

The local connection continues with Jude Iannelli of 13th Street and Oregon Avenue designing the book jacket.

Jones says friend Mirarchi was invaluable to the project, but the attorney throws it back to the writer. "He’s the one that put it all together. He is just a fantastic writer that has a street-smart knack," Mirarchi said. "He really gets to the heart of the matter and puts things in perspective."

Currently in Philadelphia, where according to police statistics violent crime is soaring and the murder rate is one of the highest in the country, Jones feels his book is important.

"I want people to read it and see what the consequences are. I want them to see what was lost — not just the victims, but their families; the perpetrators and their families. I want them to see this can happen to you and your kids unless we take corrective measures [to quell crime]," Jones said.

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Jane Kiefer
Jane Kiefer, a seasoned journalist with a rich background in digital media strategies, leads South Philly Review as its Editor-in-Chief. Originally hailing from Seattle, Jane combines her outsider perspective with a profound respect for South Philly's vibrant community, bringing fresh insights and innovative storytelling to the newspaper.