PHILADELPHIA --An uncle of the gunman said to have killed Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski took part in the well-developed plan to rob a bank in Port Richmond -- a plot that ultimately ended in the sergeant's assassination -- but pulled out at the last minute after "he got cold feet," a prosecutor said yesterday.
Assistant District Attorney Mark Gilson told reporters that Mitchell Cain had participated in a carjacking the day before Liczbinski was gunned down, and that the robbery of the bank in the ShopRite on Aramingo Avenue near Castor was initially slated to take place that evening.
Cain, 48, a thin man wearing an untucked red Phillies T-shirt with an image of the Liberty Bell in front, entered the heavily secured preliminary-hearing courtroom yesterday morning with his hands cuffed in front.
He waived his right to a hearing before Municipal Judge Teresa Carr Deni, who then held Cain, of 61st Street near Race, West Philadelphia, for trial on charges of carjacking, robbery, conspiracy and weapons offenses.
About 11:30 a.m. May 3, Cain's nephew Howard Cain, 34; Levon Warner, 39, and Eric Floyd, 33, allegedly robbed the Bank of America in the ShopRite. Then, Howard Cain is said to have used an SKS rifle to kill Liczbinski, 39, after the officer pursued the trio as they fled in a Jeep Liberty.
Shortly after, police killed Cain.
Gilson, speaking after Mitchell Cain's court appearance, said that on May 2, the day before the robbery and shooting, Mitchell Cain conspired with his nephew and Floyd to carjack the Jeep.
The trio went to Tusculum Street near 6th, North Philadelphia, and hailed a hack, an unlicensed taxi driver.
At some point, they carjacked the driver at gunpoint and stole the Jeep, Gilson said. Later that evening, they drove to the ShopRite, where they were going to commit the robbery, he said.
"However, the plan fell through because, whereas Howard Cain and Floyd both had the Muslim garb on and were costumed and suited up, [the uncle . . . ]had nothing," Gilson said. "So, not having any costume or disguise, he wouldn't go through with this."
The next morning, Gilson said Howard Cain cut his uncle out of the robbery plan and replaced him with Warner.
Dan Stevenson, Mitchell Cain's public defender, suggested in comments to reporters that his client may eventually plead guilty.
"It might be in my client's best interest to seek some resolution other than going to trial," he said. When asked if his client, who also spells his last name as Kain, would cooperate as a prosecution witness, Stevenson said: "That's an option."
Warner and Floyd face preliminary hearings today on murder and related charges. Prosecutors are expected to present their statements to police and witnesses from the bank and shooting scene. They also are expected to play a video of the three robbers at the ShopRite and tapes of 9-1-1 calls made that day.
"Howard Cain was a regular customer at that bank and cashed a check in there every Friday night," Gilson said. "He'd been thinking about [the robbery] for weeks and months."
Gilson said Cain and Warner committed the robbery as Floyd stood in the store "with his finger on the trigger of the rifle," kept inside a cardboard box, "in case someone wants to play hero."
When the bank manager opens the door, Cain "knocks her down," and he and Warner then rob the bank, Gilson said.
The three left the ShopRite in the stolen Jeep, then were about to drive to a minivan they "stashed" in the neighborhood, Gilson said. But their plan was foiled when Liczbinski, responding to a radio call of the robbery, tailed the Jeep and pursued it to Almond and Schiller streets.
"They kill him right around the corner from where they stashed the van. They were leading him to that spot," Gilson contended.
As Floyd was driving and saw the police car behind him, he realized he couldn't lose it, so he told his accomplices, "We're going to have to bang him," Gilson said.
Evidence pointed to Cain as the killer. But Gilson contended the other two were also responsible for the sergeant's death. "Every one of them had their hands on that rifle," he said.
Tonya Lynne Stephens and Isaac Albright, charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly helping hide Floyd, are to face preliminary hearings at a later date.