Tabu bouncer held for trial on third-degree murder charge

Kenneth Frye (Photo courtesy Philadelphia Police Department) punched Eric Pope outside Tabu. Pope died a week later.

After an emotionally-charged preliminary hearing July 19, former bouncer Kenneth Frye was held for trial on a third-degree murder charge after punching Eric Pope outside Tabu Nightclub, allegedly causing Pope’s death.

“Of course this is third-degree murder,” declared Municipal Judge Karen Y. Simmons, after an hour-long hearing.

Pope, an openly-gay man, patronized Tabu during the early morning of April 16, 2022, when he was ordered out of the club for alleged drunkenness.

According to surveillance video, Pope was shoved out of a Tabu doorway onto Manning Street. The force of the shove apparently caused Pope to fall prostrate onto the sidewalk. The person who shoved Pope cannot be seen on the video.

After briefly lying on the sidewalk, Pope, 41, righted himself and walked east along Manning toward the front of Tabu.

There, he danced along South 12th Street until Frye punched him in the face, causing Pope to fall onto the street unconscious. Immediately prior to the punch, someone can be heard telling Frye to leave Pope alone.

After the punch, it was about 10 minutes before 911 was called and another 10 minutes before a fire engine arrived. Pope died a week later at Jefferson Hospital due to blunt-impact head trauma. 

Dressed all in black, Frye attended the July 19 hearing but didn’t make a public statement. Two videos of the alleged murder were shown, which Frye watched intently. The videos were narrated by Homicide Detective Thorsten Lucke.

Relatives of Pope burst into tears as the videos were shown on an electronic screen. Their cries could be heard throughout the courtroom. They were too distraught to comment for this story.

Frye, 23, lowered his head for almost a minute while Municipal Judge Karen Y. Simmons mulled whether he should remain free on bail. Frye appeared relieved when Simmons said he could remain free, noting she couldn’t let her emotions influence her decision.

Simmons said Frye was much larger than Pope and had no apparent reason to punch him. “[Pope] was standing on the street minding his own business,” Simmons noted. “Out of the blue, there’s this deadly punch with no ability [for Pope] to fight back.”

Simmons questioned why everyone associated with Pope’s removal from Tabu wasn’t charged with a crime, including Tabu staff. “So many more people could have been charged,” the judge asserted.

Outside the courtroom, prosecutor Danielle M. Burkavage had no comment on why additional individuals weren’t charged.

“We appreciate the judge’s ruling [retaining third-degree murder charge],” Burkavage told PGN. “We look forward to continuing to prosecute this case to get justice for Mr. Pope.”

During the hearing, Burkavage described Pope’s alleged murder in stark terms. “How brutal it was and how out of the blue it was,” Burkavage told the judge. “There’s malice all over the place.”

Defense attorney Zak T. Goldstein argued Frye didn’t act with malice when punching Pope. Thus, he shouldn’t be charged with third-degree murder. Goldstein also said Frye didn’t call 911 after punching Pope because he didn’t realize Pope was seriously injured. “Because it’s one punch, you don’t expect his injury to be that bad,” Goldstein asserted.

Goldstein also noted that Frye didn’t flee the scene after punching Pope.

Tabu’s assistant general manager, John Markocki, testified that Frye worked at Tabu for “a few years.” He said all three bouncers involved in Pope’s removal from the club conveyed to him that Pope “fell and hit his head.”

It wasn’t until later that morning when Markocki reviewed Tabu’s surveillance video that he realized Pope had been punched, Markocki testified.

Markocki testified that he was the person who called 911 on behalf of Pope. 

After the hearing, Goldstein, the defense attorney, issued this statement:  “We respect – but disagree – with the court’s ruling and obviously feel very strongly that there was no malice and this was not a murder. That was a preliminary hearing. So Mr. Frye is still presumed innocent. We will continue to litigate this issue in the Court of Common Pleas.”

Outside the courtroom, Frye declined to comment for this story. His formal arraignment is scheduled for 11 a.m. Aug. 9 in Courtroom 1104 of the Criminal Justice Center, 1315 Filbert St.

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, and the Keystone Press.