Two relatives of convicted Tacony murderers Gerald Drummond and Robert McDowell were sentenced last week to prison time for threatening witnesses in the case.
McDowell’s mother, Theresa Merlo, and McDowell’s wife, Tara McDowell — who also is Drummond’s sister — each pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a Nov. 1 confrontation in a neighborhood doctor’s office.
According to Assistant District Attorney Carlos Vega, Merlo and Tara McDowell encountered the two female witnesses by chance and took the opportunity to threaten their lives.
Merlo, 48, and Tara McDowell, 26, told the witnesses that they and their children would be killed in retaliation for the witnesses’ testimony at the 2010 murder trial of Drummond and Robert McDowell, Vega said in court last Thursday, according to published reports.
Drummond and Robert McDowell were convicted in December 2010 of the execution-style shootings of Timmy Clark, 16, and Damien Holloway, 27, on the 6800 block of Vandike St. on July 13, 2007.
Testimony by the two witnesses helped secure first-degree murder convictions for Drummond, then 26, and Robert McDowell, then 28. The witnesses didn’t see the shooting but generally testified that Drummond and Robert McDowell implicated themselves by boasting about the murders after the fact.
Both men continued to deny involvement in the murders throughout their trial and sentencing. They are serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Merlo testified for the defense during the penalty phase of the murder proceeding. She spoke of physical and emotional abuse that she and Robert McDowell suffered at the hands of her two ex-husbands, one of whom was McDowell’s natural father. She blamed the childhood beatings as a contributing factor to her son’s abuse of illicit drugs, including heroin.
After the sentencing, Merlo called the Northeast Times multiple times to criticize the paper for what she deemed as biased reporting in its coverage of the murder case. She requested to tell a different side of the story. The newspaper declined the offer, noting that Merlo would have told of any mitigating circumstances during her court testimony.
Authorities arrested Merlo and Tara McDowell on Nov. 7, six days after the doctor’s office confrontation, and they remained behind bars through last week’s sentencing.
Accusations of witness intimidation involving other members of the Drummond and McDowell families also surfaced during the 2010 murder trial.
Gerald Drummond’s brother, Michael, was arrested for retaliation on Dec. 11, 2010, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to up to 23 months in prison.
Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner presided over the murder case and the retaliation case involving Merlo and Tara McDowell. He ordered Merlo to serve seven to 23 months in prison, with credit for time served, followed by four years of reporting probation. The judge sentenced Tara McDowell to time served up to 23 months in prison, plus four years reporting probation, so she was released upon the conclusion of the sentencing hearing.
The guilty pleas were not negotiated with the district attorney’s office. Vega sought prison sentences of three to six years for both defendants.
According to published reports, Tara McDowell apologized for threatening the two victims and vowed not to target them again, but Merlo did not apologize or otherwise address the court in her own defense.
According to testimony at the murder trial, Drummond wanted Holloway dead because Holloway had fathered a child with Drummond’s sister, then had a falling-out with her. Drummond enlisted his brother-in-law, Robert McDowell, to help in the killing. Clark was killed because he happened to be with Holloway at the time. Clark worked for Holloway as a landscaper.
Drummond used racial epithets in referring to Holloway after the killings, witnesses said during the murder trial. Drummond and McDowell are white; Holloway was black. ••EndFragment