By Julie Shaw
Philadelphia Daily News
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — ANNE SKERSKI batted back the tears, forcing them inside.
At times, she wiped her eyes with a crumpled tissue. She opened her mouth to breathe.
She sat in the front row of the courtroom gallery, surrounded by about 15 family members, and looked at the man who last year killed her husband, Officer Gary Skerski, a 16-year police veteran.
Yesterday in Common Pleas Court, Solomon Montgomery, 25, swaggered slightly as he walked into the room, his hands cuffed in front of him. He wore glasses, a black suit, white shirt and tie, and had a goatee and a shaved head.
Before a packed courtroom, with about 75 police officers and detectives, Montgomery, of Bancroft Street near Dauphin, North Philadelphia, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the May 2006 shooting of Skerski, 46.
He will spend the rest of his life behind bars without possibility of parole. In return for his plea, the prosecution agreed not to pursue the death penalty.
Prosecutor Jude Conroy told reporters after the court proceeding that Skerski's family members agreed to the plea so that they would not have to go through a painful trial. "After weighing all the options, they were in full agreement with the plea," he said.
In court, Judge Jeffrey Minehart called Montgomery an "urban terrorist" and sentenced him to life in state prison on the murder charge. He also sentenced him to 205 to 410 years for 14 counts of robbery, five aggravated-assault charges, an attempted-murder charge and weapons offenses, in accordance with the plea agreement.
The judge called Skerski a "true hero."
Prosecutor Conroy, reading a summary of facts in the case, said that at 10:09 p.m. May 8, 2006, Montgomery went into Pat's Cafe, at Castor Avenue and Arrott Street, Frankford, and told the 14 people inside: "This ain't Halloween, M-----f-----. This is a robbery."
Armed with a sawed-off shotgun and a semiautomatic handgun, Montgomery "announced he was on the run and would shoot everybody," Conroy said. At the time, Montgomery was wanted in California on a gun charge.
He yelled at the frightened patrons to "sit the f--- down and take out your money." He warned one woman "not to mess with him or he would blow her head off" and he told her, "B----, don't make me make you an example."
Montgomery spoke yesterday, taking off his glasses, rubbing his eyes, then facing the judge.
"I realize that no words that I can possibly say right now" can change anything, he said. "If I could bring back a son, a father, a husband, a friend, Officer Gary Skerski, I would."
He said he realized how much pain he had caused his family and that of the fallen officer.
"I'm deeply sorry," he said.
During Montgomery's apology, Anne Skerski looked toward him, shook her head and wiped her face with a tissue.
Skerski and his partner, Police Officer William Alexander, had responded to a call of a robbery in progress at the bar that night. Alexander told reporters after the court hearing: "There are really no words to say of the loss. Gary was a good friend. A lot of people will miss him. It's something I think about every day."
As for Montgomery's apology, Alexander said: "I don't think it was sincere, to be honest."
But public defender Dan Stevenson told reporters that Montgomery's apology was sincere. "He was remorseful," Stevenson said.
Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, who attended the hearing, told reporters afterward: "This person will never walk the streets of Philadelphia or any other place again for the rest of his life."
In court, Conroy said Montgomery had baited officers to enter the bar by opening the side emergency door slightly.
Skerski walked to that door.
That's when Montgomery, "at point-blank range, with the barrel of the shotgun within inches, shot" Skerski in the throat, above his protective vest, Conroy said. As Montgomery left the bar, he again pointed the shotgun at Skerski, who was on the ground, then leveled it at Alexander and fired at him four times.
Montgomery later told his family "he f----- up" in the bar and when the cops arrived, it was either him or the cops, Conroy said.
Police Officer Charles Calter testified yesterday that he heard Skerski's voice over the radio, saying: "I'm shot! I'm shot!"
"My stomach dropped," Calter told the court.
Calter pulled up to the bar and saw Skerski on the ground. He and Officer Richard Lorenz brought Skerski to Temple University Hospital.
Calter, a fellow officer of Skerski's in the 15th Police District in the Northeast, said he had last seen Skerski about 8 that night at the Northeast Detective Division, located in the same building at Harbison and Levick streets. He had joked with Skerski, a community-relations officer, saying: "Oh, you got your vest on tonight."
"[Skerski] said, 'Oh, yeah, it's crazy out here. I gotta wear this thing,' " Calter testified.
Calter told the judge, referring to Montgomery: "This man is getting off lucky, your honor."
Conroy, getting emotional, told the court that Skerski's death left two children, Robert, then 13, and Nicole, then 10, without a father. And it left Skerski's parents, Chester and Mary, without a son, and siblings Robert and Jacqueline without a brother.
Skerski's parents and siblings sat in the front row of the gallery. The children did not attend. *
Copyright 2007 The Philadelphia Daily News
Pa. cop-killer gets life: 'I'm deeply sorry'