A Philadelphia man who avoided a conviction despite 44 arrests for armed robbery and other crimes will now serve at least 32 years in federal prison, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. John Gassew, 25, was found guilty yesterday of two counts of robbery and two counts of possessing a firearm while committing a crime. Federal prosecutors picked up the case in 2010 after the Inquirer profiled Gassew’s virtually penalty-free journey through the local courts.
For more than a decade, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has used its tougher penalties and greater resources to prosecute selected cases ordinarily handled in the city’s Common Pleas Court. Assistant U.S. Attorney Linwood Wright said the convictions would not have been possible without “witnesses who are willing to come forward and victims who are willing to hang in there.” In the city court system, case after case collapsed after victims failed to show up to testify. The Inquirer found that Gassew was a typical defendant in a system where nearly two-thirds of those charged with violent crimes escaped conviction on all counts. The series said about 20 robbery cases against Gassew were dropped by city courts after witnesses failed to appear in court.