Surveillance cameras caught the man at left allegedly forcing an elderly woman to withdraw $8,000 from her bank before robbing her, with a woman's assistance. Police arrested and charged Vickson Korlewala, right, and wife Lorpu. Charges were dropped due to lack of prosecution at a hearing Friday. Credit: PPD/Susanna Dodgson
A Kafkaesque legal nightmare ended on Friday, after robbery charges were dismissed against a husband and wife, in a case where the male defendant did not resemble surveillance images of a male suspect.
Following a heated two-hour hearing, Judge Charles Hayden dismissed charges against Vickson, 57, and Lorpu, 51, Korlewala, due to "lack of prosecution," after prosecutors sought to appeal the judge's decision barring a witness, rather than proceed with the case.
"Be ready for the detectives to re-arrest," prosecutor Joseph McCool warned the Korlewalas as they left the courtroom.
But defense attorneys Kevin Mincey and Thomas Fitzpatrick dismissed that as a "threat."
"This is a common tactic prosecutors use to try and threaten lawyers and judges," Fitzpatrick said. "If you don't believe anything else, look at the pictures."
While the D.A.'s office could re-file the criminal charges, Mincey and Fitzgerald weren't concerned.
"All we can do is show up and be ready," Mincey said.
The hearing was packed with more than 40 supporters and friends of the Korlewalas, many of whom wore T-shirst printed with the surveillance picture of the male robbery suspect and a picture of Vickson, and with the words, "Mistaken Identity: Release the Korlewalas."
Now, the Korlewalas, who were charged in April and spent three weeks in jail before bail was reduced, are hoping to get back to their regular lives.
Vickson, a chemist who specializes in renewable energy through his company, EcoPower Liberia, is also a member of the steering committee of a new group, SupportLiberia.org, and is advancing a proposal to build medical clinics in Liberia with the aid of a Chicago entrepreneur.
Lorpu runs Lela's Braiding Gallery, a salon in West Philadelphia.
"We just really want to tell our supporters, the Liberian community, our friends and family -- thank you so much," Vickson said. "This [the robbery charges] is not our character, the community knows this is not our character."
Vickson Korlewala, 57, 4th from left, standing, and wife Lorpu, 51, second from right, posed for pictures with friends and supporters after charges were dropped at their hearing on Friday. Credit: Sam Newhouse
The Korlewala' previous preliminary hearing in July was adjourned because one alleged victim was not ready to testify.
On Friday, Judge Hayden ruled that victim could not testify, because she did not participate in a line-up, and at the July hearing, Judge David Shuter had ordered that any witness who did not participate in a line-up could not testify.
McCool said he had "no case" without the witness in question, an 82-year-old alleged victim, and requested 30 days to file an interlocutory appeal.
Instead, noting that the case was marked "must be tried," Hayden dismissed all charges.
Watch surveillance footage of the original robbery, with which the Korlewalas were charged, below:
The Korlewalas were arrested after on March 31, an 80-year-old woman was forced into a car in Southwest Philadelphia by a man and a woman who persuaded her to withdraw about $8,000 in savings from a Citizens Bank branch near the Philadelphia International Airport.
She sought police help after the couple shoved the woman out of the car near 57th and Chestnut streets.
The Korelwalas were later charged with a second robbery that occurred in February. A 92-year-old woman was allegedly abducted near 11th and Chestnut streets by a man and woman and forced to withdraw $1,200 from her Sovereign Bank account.
Neither of the Korlewalas have a criminal record or have been arrested before.
With the case behind them, Vickson said he plans to focus on SupportLibera.org to get medical supplies and support to Liberia, where he said the Ebola crisis is being worsened by a growing famine.
For this new effort, Vickson said, he is now receiving support from the same community that came together to support his family as they faced criminal charges.
"It has formed the basis of our coming together to fight Ebola as well," Vickson said.