A Baltimore jury failed to reach a verdict Tuesday in a high-profile murder case, leading a city judge to declare a mistrial in city prosecutors' first battle with what they say is a murderous group within the Black Guerrilla Family gang.
A juror who declined to give her name said a majority on the panel had been leaning toward acquitting David Hunter, an alleged BGF member who was charged with murder in the broad-daylight killing of heroin dealer Henry Mills on Greenmount Avenue three years ago.
At its heart, Hunter's case was a simple matter: The jury was asked to weigh the credibility of eyewitnesses to Mills' June 2011 death.
But the trial also was an opportunity for State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein to claim an early victory against a group of four dozen BGF members and associates who prosecutors say bloodied the streets of East Baltimore for years.
Hunter's attorney urged the jurors not to be influenced by the BGF "boogeyman," but to focus instead on the testimony of two witnesses who he said only got glimpses of the killer.
"The state's whole case in reality … comes down to two seconds," Michael Lawlor said in his closing argument.
Prosecutors also charged Hunter with a rarely used law that allowed them to present evidence about his alleged connections to the BGF — details a judge might otherwise prevent a jury from hearing.
That law is the underpinning for cases against other BGF defendants. The mistrial offers no hint of how they might fare, because jurors were instructed to weigh the gang charge only if they found Hunter guilty of the murder.
Prosecutors said the death of Mills was closely linked to the gang: They said he was killed because he was suspected of killing a senior BGF member, and because the gang wanted to send the message that it controlled the drug trade in the Greenmount Avenue area.
Prosecutors said Hunter worked as an enforcer for the BGF, and it was in that role that he picked up the assignment to kill Mills.
Prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah, who heads a unit Bernstein created to handle complex cases, said the evidence was clear. On a sunny afternoon, Vignarajah told the jury in his closing argument, Hunter marched up behind Mills on Greenmount Avenue and "with a single swift movement blew his brains out."
"This was a public execution," he said.
The evidence consisted of witnesses and a video from a liquor store surveillance system that showed two men fleeing the scene. One, who prosecutors said was Hunter, appeared to be clutching a gun to his abdomen.
A second video, which prosecutors said was captured just hours later, showed Hunter — dressed in the same clothes as one of the running men — meeting with other members of the gang. They congratulated him on the killing, prosecutors said.
To try to prove that Hunter was a member of the BGF, prosecutors relied on expert testimony from police officers and documents uncovered using search warrants.
Vignarajah described Hunter as a "card-carrying, long-standing" member of the gang, which he blamed for many of the problems plaguing parts of Baltimore.
"The reason why these neighborhoods have drugs, have crime is in part because of the Black Guerrilla Family," he said. "They are contributing to the cycle."
Prosecutors are free to try the case a second time. Hunter, who faces other charges over his alleged gang ties, will remain jailed.
Michelle Mills, the victim's sister, said she was frustrated with the outcome.
"Now you're telling me we have to go through this all over again," she said.
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