The killers targeted the woman because her longtime boyfriend had broken off an affair a year ago, authorities said.
A jilted woman, upset that a relationship had ended, hired a hit man to stalk and kill a romantic rival, sending a gunman to shoot her as she sat in a Dunkin’ drive-thru with her 11-year-old son in the backseat, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Julie Jean, 35, was charged with first- and third-degree murder and conspiracy in the death of Rachel King, 35, a teacher at Grover Cleveland Mastery Charter School who was killed April 11 in a shopping center in Cheltenham. Jean plotted with Zakkee Steven Alhakim, 33, prosecutors said, and bought him a Mercury sedan that he used to follow King as she drove her son, Jalen, to violin practice. As King, of Elkins Park, was stopped at the coffee shop, they said, he shot her at point-blank range in an early-morning ambush.
Alhakim remains in custody in Philadelphia, and will be charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy and related crimes, according to Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele, who announced the arrests at a news conference.
“I’ve seen a lot of horrible, even horrific, evil homicides in my career as a prosecutor,” Steele said. “Suffice it to say, I’m struggling with this one.”
King had been in a relationship for years with William Hayes, who started a relationship with Jean last year, according to the affidavit of probable cause for Jean’s arrest. When King discovered the infidelity, Hayes cut ties with Jean, a decision that infuriated her, prosecutors said. The affair strained King’s relationship with Hayes, but they reconciled.
Meanwhile, Jean stalked and harassed Hayes, calling and texting him incessantly and appearing unannounced at his apartment, the affidavit said. She also reached out to King, calling her at work and asking about her relationship with Hayes.
Hayes applied for and received a protection-from-abuse order against Jean in December, according to Steele.
Two months later, Jean reached out to Alhakim, who is related to the father of her children, the affidavit said. The two began exchanging text messages, including a Google Maps screenshot of King’s apartment, the document said.
Evidence pulled from Jean’s cellphone showed that the two met multiple times in Philadelphia, and at one meeting, she provided Alhakim with pictures of King, according to the affidavit.
In March, Jean purchased a Mercury Sable from a dealer in Cheltenham. The vehicle matched the description of the one used by the gunman who targeted King in the drive-thru, prosecutors said. Surveillance footage from King’s apartment complex also recorded the vehicle several times in the days leading up to King’s murder.
Hours after the shooting, Philadelphia Police officers spotted the car in Logan and attempted to pull it over. The driver, who sped away and led the officers on a chase until crashing into a fence, was later identified as Alhakim.
In an interview with detectives, Alhakim denied being in Cheltenham on the day of King’s shooting, saying he was selling drugs in Kensington at the time, the affidavit said. He also denied knowing Jean.
But Philadelphia Police Homicide detectives were able to link the Mercury to a murder in the city on April 7, in which a 9mm handgun was used. Using a national ballistics database, detectives positively matched those shell casings with ones taken from the crime scene in Cheltenham and determined that they came from the same gun, authorities said.
Alhakim was charged with first-degree murder in the Philadelphia shooting, and taken into custody. A photo found on his cellphone depicted a “ghost gun” — an untraceable firearm assembled from a kit — that detectives believe was likely used in both murders.
Jean was later interviewed by Montgomery County detectives and denied any knowledge of King’s slaying. The detectives obtained a warrant for Jean’s cellphone, and found she had deleted 787 text messages just minutes before their meeting, including all of her communication with Alhakim.
At Wednesday’s news conference, King’s parents spoke briefly and thanked law enforcement officials for their dedication to solving the case.
“We can’t articulate how grateful we are for the work that has been done and the work they continue to do,” King’s father, Rev. Allen King Jr., said. “We want justice to be done, we want it done swiftly, and we want it done fairly.”