A panel of state Superior Court judges considering the case of Kenneth Frye indicated this week that murder charges against Frye are likely to be reinstated.
Frye, 24, punched Eric Pope once on the head outside Tabu Nightclub on April 16, 2022. Pope died a week later due to brain trauma. Pope, 41, was a beloved educator and a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
In December 2022, Common Pleas Judge Lillian H. Ransom dismissed third-degree murder charges against Frye. However, the District Attorney’s Office is appealing that ruling. On Nov. 2, state Superior Court Judges Alice B. Dubow, Victor P. Stabile and Megan K. Sullivan heard oral arguments on the dispute.
During their questioning of both sides, the judges said they had serious concerns with Frye’s actions at the time he punched Pope.
“Usually we don’t want to tip our hand,” Stabile told defense attorney Zak T. Goldstein. “But we don’t see this as one punch coming out of nowhere. Obviously, we have serious questions about your position.”
Goldstein emphasized that Frye only punched Pope once. He noted that appellate courts in Pennsylvania never had held that one punch constitutes murder.
“Is it one punch?” Sullivan asked Goldstein. “He [Frye] let [Pope] linger on the street where other traffic could get him. He leaves him on the street.”
Stabile said all three judges have viewed videos of the incident. They saw Pope being shoved out of Tabu by bouncers and landing prostrate on a side street. Pope managed to right himself and walk to the front of Tabu, where Frye allegedly sucker-punched him.
Stabile said he was concerned Frye prevented two other bouncers from protecting Pope from oncoming traffic.
“He [Frye] said, ‘Let him go; let him be. That’s what he does,’” Stabile said. “As if to say it’s OK if [Pope] gets hurt by traffic.”
Stabile told Goldstein: “Counsel: Looking at that video, it’s pretty callous…It was not just one punch, it was a knockdown.”
Dubow expressed agreement with Stabile, asserting that Pope was intoxicated and “defenseless.” Dubow also questioned whether the case was being investigated as a hate crime, adding that Pope was “dehumanized” by Frye.
Assistant District Attorney Joshua S. Goldwert acknowledged the Pope homicide isn’t being investigated as a hate crime. But Goldwert contended that Frye allegedly acted with malice and showed an “extreme indifference” to the value of Pope’s life.
Stabile emphasized the three-judge panel isn’t saying Frye is definitely guilty of third-degree murder. If the panel reinstates the murder charge, it’s still possible for a Philadelphia jury to acquit Frye, Stabile noted.
Such acquittals have occurred in the past, Stabile said. For example, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reinstated criminal charges for Brandon W. Bostian, an Amtrak conductor involved in a May 2015 train wreck that killed eight individuals. But a Philadelphia jury acquitted Bostian of all criminal charges, Stabile said.
After the hearing, Goldstein issued this statement: “We appreciate the fact that the court is carefully considering the case. We look forward to receiving a ruling and will then decide on the next steps. It’s important to remember that this is not the appeal of a verdict — it is just whether or not the case should proceed on murder or manslaughter charges. Any ruling either way is potentially subject to additional levels of appeal by both sides, and a jury will ultimately make the final decision on guilt or innocence. I do want to reiterate that while the outcome of this incident is an absolute tragedy, there is no evidence whatsoever that this was a hate crime.”
Asa Khalif, a community advocate who attended the oral arguments, said Frye committed a hate crime, in his opinion.
“Kenneth Frye must be punished for his violent and brutal homophobic attack on Eric Pope,” Khalif told PGN. “I pray that the third-degree murder charge is reinstated.”
In an unrelated matter, Frye is accused of looting a West Philadelphia liquor store in September. As of presstime, he was incarcerated at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Northeast Philadelphia, until he can meet his additional bail requirement of $15,000 in cash. A spokesperson for the DA’s Office had no comment for this story.