Surveillance Footage Leads to Arrest in Chilling Philadelphia Case

PHILADELPHIA -- A man was charged Thursday with shooting to death a woman on a downtown sidewalk moments after she stepped off a bus on her way to work - a killing caught on tape by surveillance cameras.

Juan Covington, 43, a subcontractor at the hospital where Patricia McDermott worked, was charged with her murder, reckless endangerment and weapons violations. Authorities said they had video of him at Pennsylvania Hospital shortly after the shooting, wearing clothes matching the description of the killer.

McDermott, 48, of Elkins Park, was shot in the head in the pre-dawn hours of May 17 as she walked from the downtown bus stop to her job as an X-ray technician.

Video taken from cameras mounted on several buildings captured the chilling murder of the mother of two.

District Attorney Lynne Abraham said the tragedy should underscore the importance of having a network of surveillance cameras on city streets. She also noted that London authorities have used video cameras extensively in their investigation of four terrorist bombings last week.

Abraham has long advocated that cameras be installed on buildings to thwart crime, a view that civil liberties groups and others have criticized as an infringement on citizens' privacy rights.

"I know I took a lot of grief about it," she said. "Anybody who believes that (cameras are an invasion of privacy) ought to take a look at what happened in the London bombings."

Investigators said surveillance cameras helped them identify a suspect, put together a composite sketch with witnesses who saw him, and determine that Covington was near the scene of the shooting.

Police had released portions of the grainy surveillance footage that they pieced together of the shooting and escape in the hope that someone might recognize the gunman.

The video shows McDermott walking along the sidewalk, her head lowered and her hands tucked in her jacket pockets, and the gunman quickly catching up with her. He calmly walks alongside her for a few seconds before shooting her in the head and fleeing. The attacker doesn't appear to rob McDermott or engage her in conversation before killing her.

Authorities said they were led to Covington by tips that he resembled a police composite sketch. The sketch was put together based on interviews with people who saw the man from the video.

As they investigated Covington, a former city bus driver, detectives discovered he worked at Pennsylvania Hospital as a subcontractor. They then looked at the hospital's surveillance video from the morning of the murder and spotted Covington entering the hospital, officials said.

Covington, of the city's Logan section, was in custody and it was unclear if he had an attorney. Police have not determined a motive for the slaying and don't know if Covington and McDermott had any kind of a relationship, homicide Captain Richard Ross said.

"I don't know if (the victim) even knew this gentleman," Ross said.

Covington was carrying a handgun when he was picked up Tuesday; he had a permit but the paperwork was not in order, so police were able to hold him for questioning.

Ross declined to say whether Covington was cooperating with authorities. The handgun used in the slaying has not been recovered and police were searching Covington's home.