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Judge lets conspiracy charge stand in fatal Philadelphia cave-in

By Daniel Kelley

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Two men accused in a deadly Philadelphia building collapse battled criminal charges in court on Tuesday, two days shy of the anniversary of the cave-in that killed six people and badly injured several others.

The site, where a four-story brick wall fell onto shoppers and workers in a Salvation Army thrift store, is now vacant, and the charity has donated the property to the city to build a memorial park.

“We want to honor and respect the lives that were lost and injured,” said Nancy Goldenberg, a member of a committee working on the plan.

"We want people to engage, and we want it to be a peaceful place," she said. "It's a very challenging spot to create a quiet, contemplative spot at a very busy intersection."

The project was the brainchild of Nancy Winkler, the mother of Anne Bryan, who was among those killed in the collapse, Goldenberg said.

The June 5, 2013, collapse occurred as construction workers were attempting to demolish a building and left a brick wall unsupported. When the wall fell, it sent piles of bricks and lumber crashing onto the neighboring Salvation Army store.

In addition to the six people killed, 13 were pulled from the rubble. Some of those injured suffered severe head injuries, and one victim lost both legs.

A grand jury in November charged the contractor overseeing the demolition, Griffin Campbell, 50, with murder, involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment.

Sean Benshop, 43, who was operating an excavator at the time of the collapse, faces charges of murder, involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment. Police said following the collapse that he had tested positive for marijuana use on the job.

Both men also face conspiracy charges. Prosecutors say both men conspired to cause the collapse because Campbell left the wall up and Benshop operated heavy machinery near it.

  Their lawyers argued on Tuesday that the conspiracy charge should be dropped because their relationship was one of employer and employee.

“My client has been arrested because he followed his employer's instructions,” Daine Grey, Benshop's attorney, said.

Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber disagreed. "They both knew what they were doing," she said. 

Court of Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner denied the request to drop the conspiracy charge, saying the issue was better left for a jury to decide.

A trial date is at least a year away, Selber said.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Leslie Adler)

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