After Black Guerrilla Family leader Naim King was killed on Halloween 2007, prosecutors say, fellow gang member David Hunter swore to avenge his death.
He waited more than three years, prosecutors say. Finally, they say, in June 2011, he found Henry D. Mills and shot him in the back of the head.
Two months later, a grand jury indicted Hunter on murder and handgun charges, but prosecutors continued to gather evidence in hopes that they could show that the killing was part of a larger battle taking place in the city streets.
On Thursday, the Baltimore state's attorney's office announced that another grand jury had decided that Hunter, 25, should face additional charges under Maryland's six-year-old gang statute.
The law prohibits criminal gang activity and carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison in cases involving a death.
The gang statute is rarely used — prosecutors could cite just two other cases in Baltimore — because proving the charge is time-consuming for an office already overburdened by casework. But officials say it enables prosecutors to give jurors a complete picture of gang violence to spell out murder motives at trial and help convict repeat offenders.
Court filings in Hunter's case provide a glimpse into the violence that has beset parts of North Baltimore in recent years, when police say the Black Guerrilla Family has been making incursions into city neighborhoods, taxing or taking over drug dealing and fueling violence.
Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein said the accusations show a common cycle of drug-dealing, killing and retribution.
"We want members of these gangs who are engaging in criminal enterprises to understand we are aware of them and we are watching them and, if we can, we are going to make cases against them," Bernstein said.
Natasha D. Moody, Hunter's public defender, called the new charge nothing more than an attempt by Bernstein's office to look tough on gangs. She said she has seen no new facts presented by prosecutors that weren't known in 2011.
"Now in March of 2013 we're adding these additional charges," she said. "Had the state thought they were appropriate, why wasn't he charged then under the gang statute? Or is it a political move at this point?"
The area along Greenmount Avenue continues to see outbursts of violence. Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts blamed a string of shootings that wounded eight last fall on a turf war involving BGF members. The sudden spike in violence led commanders to deploy 150 officers from administrative positions to foot patrols in an attempt to better protect residents.
Founded on the West Coast decades ago as a prison gang, the Black Guerrilla Family has become particularly active here over the past few years, authorities say.
This week, a man went on trial in a shooting outside Towson Town Center in 2011 that prosecutors say was part of his initiation into the BGF.
Hunter, accused in the killing of Mills, has a criminal record dating to 2003. He was convicted on a gun charge in 2006 and in 2008 of drug distribution. He was acquitted on charges of attempted murder, assault, gun and other crimes in 2009.
During that period, prosecutors say, a disagreement was brewing between Mills, who lived in the 400 block of Ilchester St., and BGF members over drug-dealing turf.
On Oct. 31, 2007, King, whom prosecutors describe as a "high-ranking" BGF member, was found in the 2400 block of Brentwood Ave., riddled with bullets. No arrest was made. Prosecutors say Hunter pledged to retaliate for the killing of the man who had brought him into the BGF.
About 1 p.m. on June 14, 2011, prosecutors say, Hunter shot Mills in the head in the 2400 block of Greenmount Ave. , just after he came out of a store. Mills, 40, hit the pavement face-first, a bottle of water and bag of chips in a plastic bag by his side, along with blood, bullet fragments and .40-caliber shells. The killing occurred about the same time of day that King had been executed more than three years before.
Investigators made the connection between the killings with the help of a witness who had been arrested for distribution of a controlled dangerous substance, prosecutors say. He told a detective 10 days after the shooting that his friend Mills had once told him that he had killed a "BGF gang dude" near 24th and Brentwood streets.
The state's attorney's Major Investigations Unit focused on Hunter, convinced that it was a priority to get him off the streets because of repeated violence linked to him or the BGF, Bernstein said.
The unit, formed by Bernstein soon after he took office in 2011, consists of eight prosecutors who work with the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration agents, federal prosecutors and Baltimore police to develop evidence to build cases against repeat offenders. Bernstein said the unit has won more than 100 convictions.
The unit set out to find evidence tying Hunter to the BGF, which Bernstein said would allow trial prosecutors to introduce his gang connections to jurors with a smaller chance of the information getting thrown out through defense objections.
The gang statute charge and supporting evidence essentially widen the story that prosecutors can tell about Hunter when he goes on trial in April in the killing of Mills.
"We want to do as thorough a job as possible and convict him this time," Bernstein said.
Hunter's public defender has a different view of the gang charge.
"This additional charge may allow them to backdoor the rules and seek admissibility of evidence they might not have been able to admit otherwise," Moody said.
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