Road-rage case ends in a guilty verdict (Philadelphia Inquirer: 4/1/06)

By Christopher Wink | Apr 1, 2006 | Philadelphia Inquirer

Friends of a newlywed father who was shot to death last May during a traffic flare-up with another motorist pumped their fists as his alleged killer was found guilty yesterday of first-degree murder.

Frank Jeffs, 52, of Southwest Philadelphia, faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison in the death of Robert Kerwood, 28, a South Philadelphia construction worker. Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina scheduled sentencing for May 15.

“I’m absolutely very happy with the verdict,” said Kerwood’s widow, Julie, whom he married 11 days before he died. “It’s comforting to know he will never be able to do something like this again.”

In closing arguments yesterday, prosecutor Carmen Lineberger called Jeffs a “wannabe military” type who “wanted to kill something that day.”

The trouble started on the Schuylkill Expressway and escalated when the men exited, honking and cutting each other off on 61st Street near Eastwick Avenue.

Jeffs, who worked in heating and air-conditioning at the University of Pennsylvania, fired three shots from a licensed .22-caliber revolver. Kerwood died the next day, May 6.

Jeffs’ godfather and uncle, Al Pellecchia, called his nephew “the kind of guy who wouldn’t step on an ant walking by.”

“It’s obvious that somewhere along the line, [the jurors] weren’t paying attention,” Pellecchia said.

Defense lawyer C. Scott Shields said Jeffs was acting in self-defense.

“This a scary, terrifying guy screaming out of his big SUV,” Shields said in his closing remarks. “What was Frank Jeffs supposed to do?”

Kerwood had waved “a black, shiny object” at Jeffs – investigators believe it was a cell phone – and yelled for him to pull over.

“He thought it was a gun, and acted to defend his life,” Shields said.

Kerwood’s family yesterday remembered him as a thoughtful and loving father of three.

“I don’t think a day would go by that he wouldn’t call and say, ‘I love you, Ma,’ ” said Kerwood’s mother, Julia. She said that after her son died, “I wanted to give up, but now I think I’m going to get my life together.”

Contact Christopher Wink at winkc@phillynews.com.

Text as it appeared in the April 1, 2006 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer on B04.