Alleged killer of gay man held for trial on unrelated trespassing charge

Kenneth Frye (Photo courtesy Philadelphia Police Department) punched Eric Pope outside Tabu in April 2022. Pope died a week later.

Kenneth Frye, the alleged murderer of Eric Pope, was held for trial this week on an unrelated criminal-trespass charge. The DA’s Office alleges that Frye looted a liquor store around 1:25 a.m. Sept. 27 in West Philadelphia. Frye was charged with burglary and criminal trespass.

But after a Dec. 15 preliminary hearing, Municipal Court Judge Marvin L. Williams Sr. dismissed the burglary charge, citing a lack of evidence. But Williams accepted the testimony of Police Officer Iroabuchi Ndukwe and retained the criminal-trespass charge against Frye.

Ndukwe testified that he responded to a dispatch call around 1:25 a.m. Sept. 27 and spotted Frye inside the Fine Wine & Good Spirits liquor store at 3101 W. Girard Ave. in West Philadelphia.

“Beer bottles were thrown everywhere,” Ndukwe stated. “The whole store was just a mess.”

Ndukwe said Frye and another person were arrested. Numerous other individuals fled the scene. When questioned by defense attorney Zak T. Goldstein, Ndukwe acknowledged Frye didn’t have any stolen items in his possession. The officer also said he didn’t see Frye enter the premises nor did he see him cause any property damage.

Goldstein pointed out that civil unrest was occurring at the time of Frye’s arrest due to the release of Mark Dial, a police officer who allegedly killed a man during a traffic stop. Dial has since been placed back in jail.

Prosecutor Daniel S. Zmistowski said the civil unrest that was taking place was irrelevant to Frye’s situation. “I fail to see the relevancy at all,” Zmistowski told the judge.

Zmistowski pointed out that Frye wasn’t brandishing a protest sign at the time of his arrest, which would indicate some type of concern regarding Dial’s release from jail.

Williams said he disagreed with a lower court’s decision to release Dial from jail. But he stopped short of declaring that civil unrest would justify Frye’s alleged criminal trespass into a liquor store.

Frye, 25, appeared in court wearing a gray sweatsuit. He didn’t testify at the hearing. He remains free on $20,000 bail for the alleged trespassing incident and $150,000 for allegedly murdering Pope. 

On April 16, 2022, Frye allegedly sucker-punched Pope outside Tabu Lounge in the Gayborhood for no apparent reason. Pope, 41, died a week later due to traumatic brain injuries. According to surveillance video, his head struck a manhole cover on South 12th Street. Pope was a member of the LGBTQ+ community and a beloved educator.

In December 2022, a Philadelphia judge downgraded a third-degree murder charge against Frye to manslaughter. But the DA’s Office is appealing that ruling in state Superior Court.

Meanwhile, Frye remains free on $20,000 bail for the alleged trespassing incident and $500,000 bail for the alleged murder of Pope.

A formal arraignment for Frye on the trespassing charge is scheduled for 11 a.m. Dec. 29 in Courtroom 1104 of the Criminal Justice Center, 1315 Filbert St. in Center City. Frye faces up to seven years in prison if convicted of the charge.

Goldstein, the defense attorney, issued this statement: “[Williams] made a very fair decision and followed the law. The Commonwealth failed to prove that Mr. Frye had any criminal intent once inside the store, so the court properly dismissed the burglary charge. Mr. Frye remains presumed innocent, and we look forward to resolving this matter in court. I am not conceding that [Frye] is guilty of criminal trespass. At a preliminary hearing, the judge is required to accept all of the Commonwealth’s evidence as true and give the Commonwealth the benefit of all reasonable inferences. The Commonwealth put on evidence that [Frye] was inside a building without permission to be there — so accepting that as true for a preliminary hearing, that was enough evidence for the case to reach the next level for a trespass charge. Whether the evidence is, in fact, true or whether there are potential defenses is an issue for trial. Now that the case has reached the Court of Common Pleas, the Commonwealth will have to provide discovery, and then I will be able to evaluate the case.”

Jane Roh, a spokesperson for DA Larry Krasner, issued this statement: “We have no comment outside of the courtroom, as is our general policy when it comes to active prosecutions.”

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