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Four Defendants Found Guilty of Murder, Conspiracy in Killing of Misidentified Witness

PHILADELPHIA (April 4, 2022) — District Attorney Larry Krasner today announced the conviction of four men found guilty of conspiring to and murdering a furniture delivery driver in 2011 whom the defendants wrongly identified as being a witness in a previous murder.While in custody for another murder in 2011, Chad Rannels plotted with associates Michael Blackston, Semaj Armstead, and Rashawn Combs, to kill a key witness whom the defendants believed was going to testify against Rannels. Rannels and his co-conspirators were recorded on telephone calls formulating the plot. Tragically, Kevin Drinks was subsequently killed on the evening of December 10, 2011, after Blackston, Armstead, and Combs followed him throughout the city for several hours. Blackston fired multiple shots and killed Drinks while he sat in his delivery vehicle on the 900 block of Watts Street in North Philadelphia. Investigators believe that a revolver was used to kill Drinks because no shell casings were found at the scene of the crime. The crime gun was never recovered.

This case was eventually solved in 2018 after Philadelphia Police Detective John Verrechio diligently began piecing clues together through jail telephone calls that had occurred between Rannels and his associates. In addition to the jail phone records, Assistant District Attorney Ashley Toczylowski and Christian Wynne utilized cell site analysis and other call records that had tracked the men across the city as they stalked Drinks, and a cooperating witness to secure convictions against the defendants. A Philadelphia jury found Rannels, Blackston, and Armstead guilty of First Degree Murder, Conspiracy, and related charges on March 29, 2022. The three men were immediately sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Combs was found guilty of Third Degree Murder and related charges and will be sentenced on June 29, 2022.“Kevin Drinks was a husband. Kevin Drinks was a father. Kevin Drinks was a grandfather. The list goes on,” said Keyna Drinks, the victim’s widow. “I thank Detective John Verrechio, Assistant District Attorneys Ashley Toczylowski, Christian Wynne, and Victim/Witness Coordinator Kathy Lees, for their dedication to solving Kevin’s murder, and for caring for our family throughout this extremely difficult time. Today, eleven years later, we stand here with justice in our hearts.”

“There is justice here today, but the ultimate justice would have been if Mr. Drinks had lived,” said DA Krasner. “And while police and prosecutors in my office will continue to hold people who commit  pursue justice on behalf of communities and families afflicted by violent crime, we must also continue to do everything in our power to prevent the next victimization.”“I want to thank all of the prosecutors and investigators who worked on this case before it was assigned to me,” said ADA Toczylowski. “Without their invaluable work earlier in the case, we would not be here today with four convictions for the murder of Mr. Drinks. This case is also an example of why it’s often difficult for witnesses to testify. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure the safety of witnesses, because, without them, we often cannot secure justice.”

CONTACT:Dustin Slaughter, 215-686-8713, [email protected]

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The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is the largest prosecutor’s office in Pennsylvania, and one of the largest in the nation. It serves the more than 1.5 million residents of the City and County of Philadelphia, employing 600 lawyers, detectives, and support staff. The District Attorney’s Office is responsible for the prosecution of approximately 40,000 criminal cases annually. Learn more about the DAO by visiting PhillyDA.org.