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Men charged in murder-for-hire after attorney's alleged disclosure

HomicideLaws and LegislationTheftRod J. RosensteinFelicia PearsonThe Wire (tv program)

At Tavon Davis' direction, federal prosecutors say, Isiah Callaway for two years helped orchestrate a scheme to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from banks.

So when the 19-year-old got busted, Davis found Callaway a lawyer, who prosecutors allege in court papers alerted Davis when federal prosecutors came calling to see if Callaway would cooperate. Within a week, Callaway was shot to death.

Prosecutors announced Tuesday that they have charged Davis, 24, and Bruce Eric Byrd, 26, with Callaway's murder in April, in a case that could bring the death penalty.

And though the attorney, Larry Feldman, has not been charged in the case, U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said the case is the second time that prosecutors believe private attorneys have disclosed sensitive information that, unwittingly, led to a man's murder.

"When we follow the rules and disclose to private lawyers that someone may be cooperating with law enforcement, we rely on them as officers of the court to keep the information from getting into the wrong hands," U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement.

Reached by phone, Feldman, whose practice is based in Pikesville, said he was stunned that prosecutors criticized him and said he did not do anything wrong.

"In a million years, I never thought anything would lead to Isiah's death," said Feldman, who is only identified in the indictment by his initials. "These guys [Tavon and Isiah] were like brothers, and [the original case] was a very minor case in District Court."

For law enforcement, the issue of protecting confidential information has been getting renewed attention. At a witness intimidation summit last week hosted by Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein at the University of Baltimore, Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger said prosecutors need to continue to "push the envelope" with judges to keep crucial information out of the hands of defendants and their attorneys.

"As state's attorneys, we're the first strong level of protection," he said. "Judges are asking for specifics, and it's not enough to say, 'You don't know what it's like out here.'"

Last month, Antonio Hall was sentenced to life in federal prison for fatally shooting federal witness Kareem Kelly Guest, 29. In that case, authorities said, Hall had learned about Guest's cooperation after a defense attorney, Michael R. Carithers Jr., passed along copies of an FBI report that detailed his role and made it to the streets. Carithers has been disbarred for unrelated reasons and said he was under investigation for allegedly giving false statements in the Guest investigation.

In that case and in the killing of Callaway, there is no allegation that the attorneys intended for the victim to be harmed.

The indictment alleges that from May 2009 to November 2011, Davis, Byrd, an unidentified third conspirator and others were involved in a scheme to deposit stolen money orders into fraudulent accounts. Prosecutors say they stole more than $500,000.

In December 2010, Callaway was arrested by Baltimore County police while directing two people to open fraudulent accounts, records show. Prosecutors say Callaway admitted to his participation in a debriefing with county detectives. He was met by Davis as he walked out of jail, records show.

Feldman says he first met Davis after helping him work out a minor settlement after he was hurt in an auto accident. Later, he represented Davis in a drunken-driving case in the city.

"He's a client — a friendly client. I'd almost consider him a friend," Feldman said.

Davis referred Callaway to Feldman for representation. But prosecutors allege that Feldman called Davis directly and told him that federal authorities wanted to interview Callaway and obtain the identity of the other participants in their scheme. Over the series of the next six days, prosecutors say, Davis called Byrd more than 60 times orchestrating Callaway's killing.

At 1:29 a.m. on April 11, prosecutors say, Byrd lured Callaway to the 1700 block of Crystal Ave. under the pretenses of a meeting and fatally shot him with a 10 mm semiautomatic handgun as he sat in a parked car. Later in the day, Davis paid Byrd $2,000 for completing the task, prosecutors say.

Feldman said he does not recall contacting Davis directly about Callaway's proposed cooperation. He said Callaway could have beat the charges he faced, referring to it as a "nothing case."

"I know I spoke to Callaway about the government wanting to speak with him, and I'm sure they [the co-conspirators] were all aware of that," he said. "I cannot imagine that he would not have spoken to Davis about that."

Callaway, who turned 19 two months before his death, had no prior adult criminal record — Feldman said he worked at a clothing store at Arundel Mills, and a memorial Facebook page shows that he had a young child. Davis, who court records show lived in Baltimore County, didn't have any charges other than traffic tickets.

Byrd, however, was indicted earlier this year in a wiretap drug investigation that gained notoriety because it ensnared Felicia "Snoop" Pearson, of "The Wire." He was slated to go to trial on Dec. 16 in that case.

Sun reporter Tricia Bishop contributed to this article.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton

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