The shooting death of 12-year-old Sean Johnson as he watched basketball on his porch in 2011 stemmed from the Black Guerrilla Family gang wanting to "send a message" in his East Baltimore neighborhood after the killing of a member, prosecutors said Friday.
At a pretrial hearing in Baltimore Circuit Court, prosecutors for the first time presented their theory that the killing was related to gang retaliation. Danyae Robinson, 31, and Derrick Brown, 20, face charges that include first-degree murder in the shooting, which also wounded three teenagers gathered on the porch.
"They did exactly what BGF members are expected to do," prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah said. "That's why they did it, that's why they went to the neighborhood."
An alleged motive for the shooting had not previously been disclosed. Sean Johnson had been watching an NBA playoff game with friends on a television propped up in the window on the front porch in the 1700 block of Cliftview Ave. when two men came around the corner and opened fire.
Under rules governing what evidence juries can hear, prosecutors must prove that gang-related testimony would not be unfairly prejudicial. At Friday's hearing, prosecutors asked Judge Timothy J. Doory for permission to offer their theory when the trial opens next week.
Attorneys for Robinson and Brown argued against the motion, saying that there's no evidence the shooting was related to the Black Guerrilla Family. They also argued that recent news coverage of the gang would taint jurors' perspective.
"There is no connection whatsoever with BGF," said Russell Neverdon, Brown's attorney. Such testimony, he said, "will highly inflame that jury to not focus on what the facts are."
Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts has called the Black Guerrilla Family "public enemy No. 1." Last fall, police staged raids on homes in an aggressive campaign they said was meant to "dismantle BGF operations across the city."
The Black Guerrilla Family also has been accused of orchestrating a drug-smuggling scheme at the Baltimore City Detention Center, a case that led to the indictment of gang members and the convictions of corrections officers who helped them.
"BGF seems to be the hot topic right now," Neverdon said after the hearing.
Doory said he would rule next week on the admissibility of the testimony related to gangs. Jury selection in the case is scheduled to begin Monday and is expected to take nearly two days.
Vignarajah said that if the testimony is allowed, the state would present evidence that the shooting was meant to retaliate against a neighborhood gang that the Black Guerrilla Family believed was responsible for shooting one of its members.
Johnson and teens on the porch had no affiliation with the defendants, Vignarajah said. Introducing gang-related testimony would help explain the "senselessness" of the crime, he said.
Prosecutors say the defendants went through the neighborhood within an hour of a ranking BGF member being shot, looking for the man they thought was responsible. When they didn't find him, they opened fire on the porch, prosecutors allege.
Three men were charged in Sean Johnson's death. The third co-defendant, Antwan Mosley, who is also facing a first-degree murder charge, did not appear in court with the others Friday, and his attorney and prosecutors declined to comment on his absence.
Johnson was shot twice in the head and once in the neck and leg. A bullet lodged in his spine, and he was left sprawled on the pavement as his friends fled from their attackers. He died two days later at Johns Hopkins Children's Center.
The teen had been in a circle of advanced students at Montebello Elementary School and was preparing to enter the eighth grade. He also enjoyed playing football, playing with the Lake Clifton Longhorns, his family said.
Three others were wounded, none of whom had criminal records as juveniles or adults. One had a scholarship to go to college.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at the time called the shootings a "horrible and terrible tragedy" and a "miserable, miserable incident that didn't need to happen."
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.
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