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Bucks GOP Legislators Tout Expanded Criminal DNA Bill

It was the worst day of David Schwartz’s life.

Two men attacked Schwartz, 63, the sole proprietor of Comic Collection, a comic book shop on Bustleton Pike in Feasterville, on Sept. 18, 2022. They beat him, robbed him, and left him zip-tied in darkness.

The police came after neighbors called.

“The cops came, and they got me untied. They helped me get through whatever I got through. If it wasn’t for the fact the community helped me out, I might not be here today. They brutally beat me, but I’m safe, thanks to the Lower Southampton Police Department,” said Schwartz.

They took money and merchandise. One neighbor reported two men carrying large trash bags out of the store, he said.

(from left) State Reps. Kristin Marcell, Shelby Labs, Joe Hogan, and K.C. Tomlinson with Sen. Frank Farry.

“These neighbors are awesome,” said Schwartz. “They called the police because it looked suspicious.”

The police used a dog to sniff out where the robbers had hidden the bags of merchandise, apparently planning to come back and get them.

“I got most of my merchandise back,” he said.  “They took the watch off my wrist. It was my father’s gift. He’s no longer with us.”

At a press conference Thursday, Police Chief Ted Krimmel said his department, with the help of a K-9  and an officer from Upper Southampton, eventually tracked down DNA evidence which led to the arrest of two Michigan truck drivers. One of them came into the shop to case it before the robbery, said Schwartz.

He said detectives, in cooperation with Michigan police, linked the two suspects to the robbery. Caleb Simpson and Zackery Tucker are in custody at the Bucks County Corrections Center.

First Assistant District Attorney Ed Louka, who is prosecuting the case, said DNA was the key.

“There’s no substitute for good, old-fashioned police work…but the DNA evidence was crucial here,” said Louka. “It was not only crucial in linking Caleb Simpson and Zackery Tucker, but Lower Southampton got a tip that two other people who actually resembled the actors might be involved. It was DNA evidence that that was able to rule them out.”

State Sen. Frank Farry (R-Bucks) said he and state Reps. K.C. Tomlinson (R-Bensalem) and Joe Hogan (R-Feasterville) have introduced bills to require DNA samples to be taken after arrests for violent felonies. He noted that now DNA is only taken after convictions.

“This has been found legal through a Supreme Court case,” said Farry. “Eighteen or 19 other states already have this as law.”

“Quite frankly, you heard how important DNA evidence is,” said Farry.

Tomlinson said she’s been focusing on crime since being elected four years ago and has introduced several anti-crime bills, including on porch pirates and retail theft, that have been signed into law. Others remain pending, including a bill to prevent catalytic converter thefts and an anti-looting package. With Hogan, she’s also introduced an anti-street racing bill.

“These bills are necessary, needed, and commonsense,” said Tomlinson. ‘We continuously hear from our constituents about rising crime in our area. Luckily, our sheriff and local law enforcement are the best of the best…This is not the Bucks County I grew up in. I grew up in my district, and crime was nothing like it is today.”

Hogan said, “We heard earlier today that DNA makes a difference.” The new bill requires DNA to be taken after arrest for violent crimes, he added.

In response to a question from DVJournal, he said these crimes are “murder and violent felonies and certain sexual assault misdemeanors.”

“There is also a gap in the post-conviction (DNA) statute because it doesn’t include murder,” said Farry. The bill would close that loophole.

Both California and Texas already do that, said Hogan. The bill is bipartisan and the legislators also have the support of Bucks County law enforcement.

State Reps. Kristin Marcell (R-Richboro) and Shelby Labs (R-Doylestown) are cosponsors and were on hand for the press conference.

Sheriff Fred Harran said the legislators saw “a problem and stepped up.”

They’re ensuring “law enforcement has the tools they need daily.”

“This is going to be a game-changer for law enforcement,” said Harran about the DNA legislation. “It’s scientific. It’s 110 percent foolproof.”

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Bucks State Reps, Sen. Farry To Introduce Expanded Criminal DNA Bill

Ashley Spence burst into tears when she heard a judge sentence the man who raped and nearly killed her to almost 138 years in prison.

“As I stood in the back of the courtroom and heard these words, my head fell into my hands, and I began to cry,” said Spence. “I cried for the pain. I cried for the justice that I finally felt after 13 long years. I cried for the protection I now felt, not just for myself but for my children. But mostly, I cried because I knew this man would never be able to harm another person again.”

In 2003, when Spence was 19 and a sophomore at Arizona State University, she moved into an apartment and went to bed “thinking that I was safe.”

But during the night, “while I was asleep, an intruder came into my apartment, suffocated my face with a pillow and began to tear off my clothes from the waist down…I thought it was a nightmare.”

Her assailant beat her and raped her while keeping a pillow over her face.

(From left) Sen. Frank Farry, Rep. K.C. Tomlinson, Sheriff Fred Harran, Ashley Spence, and Rep. Joe Hogan.

“The entire time, I could not see the face of the monster that was committing these horrific crimes against me,” Spence said. “I’m so fortunate I survived, but he got away, and I never saw his face.”

Spence spoke at a press conference called by Bucks County state Reps. Joe Hogan, K.C. Tomlinson, and Sen. Frank Farry, along with Bucks County Sheriff Fred Harran, spoke about a new bill that would require DNA samples to be taken from people arrested for felonies and some misdemeanors.

Seven years after he raped her, Spence’s assailant was arrested for a different crime in California and linked to her attack through DNA. She founded the DNA Justice Project to push for states to change their laws so that DNA is taken for felony arrests, not just when a criminal is convicted. So far, 19 states do. Hogan, Tomlinson, Farry, and Harran want Pennsylvania to be next.

“This is something that we believe is important to the state of Pennsylvania,” said Hogan (R-Feasterville-Trevose). “Current law in Pennsylvania is that DNA is collected post-conviction for some crimes. The law notably excludes homicide (which is taken on arrest).”

The proposed law would require DNA collection for felony arrest. If a person is exonerated, their DNA will be taken out of the system. There is great potential for solving cold cases, like the Fairmount Park rapist, Hogan said. Just last year, DNA linked a suspect to several 2003 rapes and a murder.

“The changes we are proposing mean that when an individual is booked for one of these crimes, their DNA is taken at the same time as their fingerprint. These two procedures are fundamentally the same. But as we know, DNA is vastly more accurate,” said Hogan.

Tomlinson (R-Bensalem) said, “There is no denying we’ve all been seeing a steady rise in crime, not only in this state but across this country. Unfortunately, crime has become a real concern in my district. Over 40 percent of the individuals arrested and committing crime in my hometown do not even reside there.”

The DNA tests would also help prove a person was innocent, she added.

Farry (R-Bucks) said he would introduce a companion bill in the Senate.

“What we’ve seen is DNA is an incredible tool,” said Harran. “We’ve started doing some outside-the-box approaches using DNA, and we saw some significant crime reduction. But crime has been going up recently.”

“What I’ve found is in Pennsylvania, there’s a loophole,” said Harran, formerly Bensalem’s director of public safety. “We are one of 19 states that do not take DNA at the time of arrest, which is a mistake. DNA in Pennsylvania it’s taken once you’re convicted of a felony…That DNA that’s taken is way too late. We need to take DNA at the time of arrest…The Supreme Court has already talked about this in 2013 in a case (from) Maryland. DNA is just another tool. It’s probably one of the best tools I’ve seen in the last 38 years. We have some great crime reduction numbers to prove that.”

“In Lower Bucks County, 16 times we’ve used DNA to exonerate people,” said Harran. “This prevents crime. You’re getting criminals off the street immediately…And tomorrow, they will be one less victim out there.”

Spence said, “DNA is science. DNA is accurate. DNA is true.”

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Bucks Lawmakers Introduce Bills to Crack Down on Crime

After a surge in suburban crime — including a 130 percent increase in firearms offenses — a group of Bucks County lawmakers led by GOP Sen. Frank Farry are sponsoring legislation to fight back.

“Every day when you turn on the news, those of us in the Philadelphia media market see what’s going on,” said Farry. “You see different and evolving crimes happening in our communities and our neighboring communities. We think it’s our responsibility, as public figures, to step forward and make sure proper statutes are on the books to help the men and women in law enforcement have the tools they need to do their jobs.”

And they had plenty of backup from the local police. About two dozen police representatives from Bucks and Montgomery Counties were on hand at Thursday’s press conference Thursday outside the Northampton Township Police Department to endorse their efforts.

Lawmakers are introducing the bills because of “feedback we’ve heard from law enforcement, feedback we’ve heard from victims, feedback from our communities, and feedback we’ve heard from prosecutors,” said Farry. “We want to ensure that law enforcement has the proper tools in their tool chest to be able to properly charge crimes that will ultimately lead to convictions.”

Warrington Police Chief Daniel Friel, president of the Police Chiefs’ Association of Bucks County, said, “We’ve seen increases in nearly every category of crime that affects the average citizen or business owner. These categories include robbery, burglary, thefts from vehicles, retail thefts, thefts of catalytic converters, and firearms thefts…We have seen a 32 percent increase in thefts from vehicles since last year (and) a 28 percent increase over the average of the past three years. Theft of catalytic converters in Warrington Township is up 85 percent since last year, and again, that’s a 237 percent increase over the past three-year average.”

Perhaps most disturbing, “There’s already a 130 percent increase in firearms offenses, which is an 89 percent increase over the past three years,” said Friel.

And illegal car meetup rallies have become common in Bucks County, overwhelming municipal police forces, he said.

The bills include mandatory jail time for illegally possessing a firearm, cracking down on porch pirates, reducing catalytic converter robberies, increasing penalties for gun store robberies, putting the brakes on vehicle meetup rallies, and enhanced charges for rioters.

Warrington Police Chief Daniel Friel speaks with Bensalem Public Safety Director William McVey, Rep. K.C. Tomlinson (left), and Rep. Kristin Marcell (right).

Bensalem Public Safety Director William McVey called them “common sense.”

“First, mandatory jail time for illegal gun possession is absolutely needed in Pennsylvania,” he said. “In Bensalem, we’ve experienced a 75 percent increase in illegal guns. We’ve seized 174 illegal guns in that timeframe. More distressing is the fact we’ve arrested 21 convicted felons for illegally possessing a firearm this year to date.”

“Without strong penalties, these felons are often released and go back to carrying illegal guns,” he said. “And worse, they use the illegal guns on innocent victims.”

And catalytic converter theft is booming. One Bensalem business had 58 catalytic converters stolen from its fleet of vehicles, which cost more than $100,000 to replace. When officers see someone with a truckload of catalytic converters, they can’t charge them “even when they have no legitimate purpose to carry them.”

“And the car meetups, the drifting, it’s absolutely crazy,” said McVey. “They’ve popped up in our jurisdictions. They overtake areas. They have no regard for anyone’s safety.”

Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Wrightstown) thanked Farry for shepherding the porch pirates bill, which increases penalties for that type of theft, through the Senate. It awaits passage in the House.

“Especially with the holiday season, where more people are relying on mail-order purchases, it’s more important than ever to protect consumers and to think about how we can help,” she said. She said that stealing boxes from people’s porches is not a victimless crime. For example, it could be medicine ordered by an elderly person that’s stolen.

Afterward, Marcell told DVJournal that Democratic Reps. Joe Ciresi (D-Royersford) and Ed Ne9lson (D-Philadelphia) are also sponsors.

Rep. Joe Hogan (R-Langhorne) said, “What’s happening in our cities right now is a choice. The decline, the prosecutorial decisions, is a choice…to allow violent criminals to be released out on bail to go back and commit more crimes. This morning, I learned that an individual who was picked up in the burglary and the rioting two days ago was released on bail on a murder three charge. (They were) right back out committing more crimes.”

Hogan introduced a bill in response to crooks who robbed a gun store in Langhorne in the middle of the night.

“If you rob a gun store and steal guns, you are going to jail for a mandatory minimum of time,” said Hogan. “We’re going to take that decision away from these prosecutors who are letting our cities fall into chaos, and we’re going to make sure that if that crime is committed, you are going to jail, and you’re going to be there a long time.”

Rep. K.C. Tomlinson (R-Bensalem) said, “Nearly 40 percent of the crime committed in Bensalem is not committed by Bensalem residents but by individuals crossing over the border from Philadelphia. Sadly, the city continues to send a message of tolerance. I stand here today with my colleagues and law enforcement to make our message very clear: Bucks County will not tolerate what’s going on in the city.”

“We will always fight to maintain the quality of life we enjoy here in Bucks County,” Tomlinson said.