After the family of a North Philly man 23 years into a life sentence for murder rallied to draw attention to his case for exoneration, another family came forward and spoke out —that of his victim.
Jerome “Hoagie” Coffey, 46, and his family are still pleading his innocence in the 1992 shooting death of 24-year-old Johnny Moss.
Coffey, who served more than a decade in solitary confinement, claims his criminal trial was irredeemably flawed and that homicide detectives used a paid informant to pin the murder on him.
But Moss’s nephew Marquise Moss, 30, who still lives onthe block where his uncle was killed -- 24thand Thompson streets -- wants Coffey to admit that he murdered Moss as part of a long-running beef between various drug dealers in the neighborhood.
“If you’re trying to come home, that’s fine. But don’t lie about what you did,” said Moss, who was 7 at the time of his uncle’s murder.
Coffey could not be reached for comment at state prison in Houtzdale, but his twin sister Jeanne Coffey said Marquise doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of the murder.
“He’s just going by word on the street that somebody by the name of Hoagie shot his uncle,” Jeanne said. “My brother's name was on the street, so that’s just what people keep saying, ‘Hoagie Hoagie Hoagie.’ Nobody know him as Jerome Coffey, they just know him as Hoagie.”
Marquise claimed he heard that Hoagie was the man responsible for his uncle’s murder from dozens of neighbors over the years. He said story after story from older folks in the neighborhood ended with the words, “Hoagie didn’t have to do that to your uncle.”
“He was the one that always made sure we had everything we needed,” Marquise recalled. “He was one of those uncles that always showed love and compassion. He would give us money to go to the candy shop. Anything we needed, school supplies, matchbox cars, comic books … He took us all to get clothes.”
Marquise acknowledged that his uncle was involved in the drug trade. But he claimed Hoagie and his crew were actually after his uncle’s cousin Germaine Watts for stealing drugs from Hoagie’s group. Marquise said Hoagie’s group even kidnapped Watts at one point, threw him in the trunk of a car, and drove him to a stash house to help them loot it, but he somehow managed to escape.
After that, Marquise said, Hoagie and his crew targetedWatt's cousin, Johnny Moss, instead.
“They targeted my uncle because when they targeted Germaine, he kept eluding them,” Marquise said. “They went for the next best thing … We don’t talk to him [Germaine] because of that.”
Moss was in his car with his brother, Marquise’s father, on Dec. 12, 1993, when a group of four men approached him and shot him dead. Marquise’s father took a bullet to the arm during the shoot-out but survived.
“The day he got killed, he was getting ready to go spend Christmas with his family on the Jersey Shore,” Marquise said.
Marquise said his grandmother never recovered from Moss’s death before passing away in 2007. Most of family left the neighborhood. Only he still lives there, he said.
Various residents of Thompson Street said they remembered Johnny Moss, who they called “light-skinned Johnny,” but did not know the details of the murder – saying people who might remember him had moved away, and that there were so many murders in those years that they could not remember the specifics.
Coffey’s sister Jeanne defended her brother as innocent despite Marquise’s claims.
“I don’t know what my brother was doing on the streets, I just know my brother didn’t bring crack back to our house,” she said. “The families lost two people that day. I can still touch and hug my brother, I'm sorry they can’t do that to their loved one.”
“I was in the house that night, I know I saw my brother, I know my brother did not kill that boy. He wants my brother to admit to something he did not do.”