Charges dropped in 2011 Point Breeze shooting

A man formerly convicted of a mass shooting in South Philly is free after charges were vacated by a federal court.

District Attorney Larry Krasner announced his office will drop all charges against Charles Rice, who was convicted in September 2011 for a shooting in a Point Breeze residence that injured a man who was allegedly affiliated with a violent neighborhood group. The victim’s mother, sister and a young cousin were also injured in the shooting. 

At a hearing on March 18, Court of Common Pleas Judge James Eisenhower granted the DA’s motion to drop all charges against Rice, who was 17 at the time and was sentenced to 30 to 60 years of incarceration after he was convicted of four counts of attempted murder, aggravated assault and related offenses.

According to court documents and transcripts, detectives believed Rice was involved with the mass shooting because he was shot three weeks prior and believed it was a gang-related retaliatory offense. Only one of the victims was able to identify Rice despite not seeing him in several years.

In September 2023, the DA’s Federal Litigation Unit in response to Rice’s habeas petition conceded that the evidence implicating Rice was weak; that ineffective assistance of counsel likely produced Rice’s conviction on all counts while a co-defendant with different trial counsel was acquitted of the crime completely; and that Rice was entitled to habeas relief.  

In November 2023, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted Rice habeas relief and vacated his conviction and sentence. Rice then filed a motion for his release with bail conditions, which was granted by Common Pleas Court in December.

When Rice’s convictions were overturned, the DA’s Office was given six months to decide to re-try Rice or withdraw all charges, which would result in an exoneration. 

Due to presumed gang affiliation between the parties, Krasner assigned the Gun Violence Task Force to further investigate the crime for which Rice had been convicted.  

After the investigation was completed, Assistant District Attorney William Fritze recommended that the state would not be able to meet its burden of proof if it were to re-try Rice for the shooting.

“It is hard to go back in time and find additional evidence from a shooting over 10 years ago,” Fritze said. “The way we prosecute and use levels of forensic evidence to support witness testimony has monumentally changed in the past decade. The Gun Violence Task Force did utilize all resources and made several attempts to compel witnesses to come forward. I find no wrongdoing on behalf of the previous prosecutors or detectives, and believe they did the best they could with the evidence they had. However, as of today I can say we would not meet our burden of proof and should not proceed further with this prosecution.” 

Further weakening the case against Rice was the non-cooperation of the mother of shooting victim Kalief Ladson, who was known by law enforcement to affiliate with a violent gang and who today is serving a federal sentence for an unrelated crime. According to the DA’s Office, neither Ladson nor his mother responded to repeated attempts by the Gun Violence Task Force to re-interview them.

Additionally, the mother’s identification of Rice at trial was problematic as she described him as having his hair in braids during the shooting, which framed his face. But at the time of Rice’s arrest two days after the September 2011 shooting, his hair was braided away from his face in corn rows to the back of the neck. The GVTF consulted with certified hair stylists who are experienced with black clients who provided an opinion that visible fraying and wear of Rice’s cornrows in the September 2011 booking photo indicate they had been styled three or four weeks prior. The investigation deemed it was improbable that Rice’s hair was in braids hanging around his face on the day of the shooting as Ladsen’s mother had testified.

“I want to thank our Federal Litigation Unit and Gun Violence Task Force for their work toward achieving a just resolution of this matter,” said Krasner. “Mr. Rice did not receive effective assistance of defense counsel at trial, nor did this office under a prior administration conduct a vigorous investigation of potential alibis. I also want to acknowledge the manner in which Mr. Rice’s mother, a DAO paralegal at the time of his arrest, was treated by this office. All defendants are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. At minimum, this office should have made sure Mr. Rice had access to competent legal counsel, just as I and all DAO supervisors would if their own children were accused of a crime.”