A federal judge doled out lengthy prison sentences this week to members of a violent drug-dealing crew that operated on the downtown strip of bars and clubs known as The Block and killed a dancer who worked for them when they thought she was a threat to their business.
Donte Baker, Tyrone Johniken and Gary Cromartie, who dealt heroin and crack cocaine together in the 400 block of E. Baltimore St., were convicted last year in the murder of Cherrie Gammon, a 25-year-old stripper and mother of two who worked at Club Pussycat.
"The crime was cold, it was cruel, it was callous," Judge James K. Bredar said as he gave Johniken, 30, a life prison sentence. "The defendant is a profoundly dangerous person."
Monica McCants, 42, Baker's mother and the leader of the group, was convicted for her role in the drug dealing but was not implicated in Gammon's death. She was sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison.
Baker, 23, was sentenced Monday to 40 years in prison, and Cromartie, 24, got 27 years on Thursday. Johniken plans to appeal, according to a court filing.
Attorneys for Baker, Cromartie and McCants could not be reached for comment Friday.
The three men picked Gammon up on a cold December night in 2010 and drove her out to Leakin Park. She was in debt to them over a package of drugs, and they suspected her of supplying information to the police officers who worked The Block.
Police found Gammon having suffered five gunshot wounds but still alive and staggering around by the side of a road.
"Baker, Johniken, and Cromartie left her, disoriented, dying, and alone," prosecutors wrote in a filing in the case.
Johniken was the only defendant in the case to go to trial. At his sentencing he continued to deny any involvement in Gammon's death. "I had no problem with Cherrie," he said. "Why would I have a reason to kill this woman?"
Johniken's lawyer, Robert Waldman, described him as a homeless man who had been taken advantage of by Baker and McCants, the leaders of the drug crew. Waldman said his client did not even make enough money selling drugs with them to rent his own apartment.
Not that there wasn't money to be made, though.
Since 2008, the regular order of business for the crew was to loiter in a carryout on The Block and wait for customers, while Gammon — who fell in with them some time in 2010 — helped them deliver orders of heroin and crack to clients inside the clubs. When the going was good, the crew made $14,000 a week, according to filings in the case.
But where prosecutors and the judge saw a ruthless organized band of dealers, Waldman described a "small and fairly bumbling" group of people.
Either way, things began unraveling when McCants was arrested in the fall of 2010 on drug charges. From jail she made angry calls to Baker ordering him to keep the business going and rough up Gammon, who had not sold a package they had given her and had fallen into debt.
Jennifer Gammon, Cherrie Gammon's sister, sat in court through Johniken's lengthy trial and watched as witnesses described the course of her sister's descent into drug addiction and drug dealing, and the final bloody hours of her life.
This week Jennifer Gammon addressed the judge at the sentencing hearings.
"My impression of Mr. Johniken is that he has no remorse for what he did," she said. "My sister's gone, nothing will ever bring her back."