Double-murder trial of former boxing star begins

Former Baltimore boxing standout heads to trial on fourth and fifth accusations of murder

An attorney for once-promising boxer James Berry — who has been charged with six murders and acquitted in three of those cases — told jurors Wednesday at Berry's latest trial for a double killing that the charges against him are too weak to convict.

Berry, 28, along with Travian Taylor and Tyrone Carter, is on trial for the November 2012 killing of brothers Allen and Darien Horton. Prosecutors said a group of masked men kicked in the door to the Hortons' West Baltimore home, summoned family members downstairs at gunpoint, and demanded to know the whereabouts of another Horton brother.

In apparent frustration, prosecutors said, the gunmen opened fire, killing Allen Horton, 23, and Darian Horton, 19, and wounding their mother. Renee Horton, 48, was shot in the face.

Assistant State's Attorney LaRai Everett said Renee Horton, who lost two teeth and nearly her nose, quickly identified Berry as one of the shooters, as did another relative later.

Renee Horton took the stand Wednesday and said, "I knew exactly who it was when I saw him."

But Berry's defense attorney, Gary Proctor, said in opening statements that those identifications are questionable because the gunman was wearing a mask and Renee Horton was unfamiliar with Berry.

"I don't fault Ms. Horton," Proctor told the jurors. "She went through something none of us should go through."

But "we're here to determine whether it was these three participants," he continued, "and if they participated beyond a reasonable doubt."

At Berry's last trial, in April, jurors acquitted him of all charges despite the testimony of a co-defendant who described how he and Berry carried out a double killing in 2008.

Berry was once a boxer who won the Golden Gloves state and regional titles. The Baltimore Sun published an article in 2007 that chronicled the challenge he faced staying away from the drug dealing that had gotten both his parents in trouble.

Prosecutors announced a sweeping indictment against Berry in 2013, saying he and about nine other people were members of a gang called D-Block that dealt drugs near the corner of Division and Bloom streets in Druid Heights.

When one of those friends was killed in 2008, prosecutors have said, Berry spread a rumor that another crew member, Romie Ziegler, was responsible.

Ziegler was killed days later, and that caused the group to split, with some members blaming Berry for Ziegler's death and others remaining loyal to him.

In the fall of that year, cousins Justin Berry and Howard Grant, alleged D-Block members who turned away from Berry after Ziegler's killing, were shot to death.

Then in March 2011, gunmen fired 30 bullets at three people sitting on a bench in Bolton Hill, killing Angelo Fitzgerald.

It was after the killings of the Horton brothers that Berry was charged in Fitzgerald's shooting, and the next summer prosecutors added charges against Berry in the deaths of the Hortons and of Justin Berry and Howard Grant.

Berry went on trial in the spring for the deaths of Justin Berry and Howard Grant. Quinzell Covington, a co-defendant described by prosecutors as a "murder consultant," testified that he helped James Berry carry out the killings. But jurors acquitted Berry of all charges, saying they had questions about the police investigation.

Berry was found not guilty of another killing in 2010.

Prosecutors did not tell jurors of the D-Block dispute in opening statements Wednesday in the Horton case and did not offer a motive.

On the stand, Renee Horton started to explain why she believed Berry was the gunman, but Proctor objected and she was not allowed to continue.

She later said his mask revealed his eyes and nose, allowing her to make the identification. Proctor said Renee Horton told police the shooter was "skinny;" in court on Wednesday, Berry appeared small but bulky in a tight suit.

A second relative initially told police that she could not describe the gunman, Proctor said, but three days later after spending time with family members named Berry as one of the shooters.

Linda Ramirez, Carter's attorney, said her client was identified after family members heard a name in the community of someone rumored to be involved in the shooting, and were shown an Instagram picture of Carter.

They picked Carter's picture out of a photo lineup but also said it could have been another person whose image had been merely used as "filler" to fill out the six-picture lineup, Ramirez said.

Taylor's attorney, Elan Rafael, said the case would "boil down to [the surviving witness'] identifications."

jfenton@baltsun.com

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