Murderer and serial rapist Troy Graves always attacked alone.
But attorneys for the parents of slain 23-year-old Wharton student Shannon Schieber argued yesterday that he had an accomplice:
The City of Philadelphia.
"If this were simply a case of a tragic death of a woman in Philadelphia, we would not be here," attorney David Rudovsky said in the opening argument of Vicki and Sylvester Schieber's $3.8 million federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, stemming from their daughter's May 7, 1998, strangulation.
"We are here because the city in large part contributed to and caused the death of Shannon Schieber," he told the jury of six men and six women, drawn from the nine-county federal judicial district of Southeastern Pennsylvania to hear the case in Judge Norma Shapiro's 10th Floor courtroom at 6th and Market streets.
The Police Department, Rudovsky asserted, "had a practice, a pervasive practice and custom of ignoring... and not investigating crimes against women."
Deputy City Solicitor Jeffrey Scott urged the jury to resist the temptation to let sympathy for the Schiebers' loss cloud their common sense.
"The City of Philadelphia did not cause her death. Troy Graves did. Troy Graves should be your focus...Troy Graves should be sitting at that table, not the City of Philadelphia."
The lawsuit argues that Schieber's 14th Amendment rights of equal protection and due process were violated because police routinely downgraded criminal sex attacks against women at a far greater rate than they downgraded other crimes.
It contends that the practice contributed to Schieber's death because police were unable to piece together existing evidence that a serial rapist was on the loose in her Center City neighborhood. Two of Graves' four prior sex attacks had been downgraded to non-crimes.
The suit alleges that cops would have acted differently when one confronted Graves in 1997 - and on the night of her murder when two cops - responding to a neighbor's 911 call of screams coming from Schieber's apartment - refused to forcibly enter and left.
Instead, Schieber's younger brother Sean, encountered his sister's naked, beaten and lifeless body lying on the bed the next morning.
"I made it about two steps [into the apartment] and my knees gave," he testified.
Earlier, Scott told the jury to "put away that 20/20 hindsight," noting that Graves had no arrest warrants, no DNA, no fingerprints and not even an outstanding traffic ticket on file when he was stopped by a beat cop in the neighborhood late at night in September 1997.
"We know who Troy Graves is today, but we certainly did not know that in 1997."
Yesterday, former Police Chief Inspector Vincent R. DeBlasis testified that downgrading had occurred historically in the department, primarily due to lack of proper training of cops and supervisors.
Specifically, he said a review of 2,500 "investigation of person" reports filed in the police sex crimes unit between 1995 and 1997 showed that 351 had been incorrectly classified. He said 70 of the cases "should have been coded rape or attempted rape," of which 15 were ultimately considered to be unfounded, leaving 55 cases that were improperly handled.
On cross examination by Scott, DeBlasis acknowledged that just because a case was coded as a non-crime, it didn't necessarily mean it had not been investigated. He also acknowledged that another police audit showed downgrading in large numbers for crimes like assault, which is not gender specific to women.