By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun
9:48 PM EDT, July 29, 2014
The alleged "secretary" of the Black Guerrilla family gang —one of dozens of alleged members charged in a high-profile case — pleaded guilty this week to a sentence that allowed him to return home that night.
Warren Commodore, 26, was among nearly 50 suspects swept up last fall and charged with being members of the gang, which police at the time were tying to much last year's spike in gun violence.
But Commodore's attorney said the only evidence prosecutors presented was a drug charge to which Commodore had admitted years earlier, and which authorities were now citing as a crime that had been committed in furtherance of the gang.
"The state never, ever submitted to me the slightest bit of evidence that connects my client to the BGF or any other gang," attorney Stephen Beatty said. "It is my opinion based on the timing of the arrests, the lack of evidence, and the rush to dispose of these cases post-election that this was a political show."
Commodore pleaded guilty in Baltimore Circuit Court Monday to being a member of the gang. He was sentenced to six years in prison, with all but time served suspended. Under the terms of the plea deal, he is forbidden to associate with anyone in the Black Guerrilla Family.
Beatty said his client decided to plead guilty solely because he wanted to go home.
"There's plenty of arguments we could have made, but by the time we made them, he would've been sitting in the jail for more than a year," he said. "Under this deal, he gets to go home and eat dinner and breathe free air."
Prosecutors rejected Beatty's assertions. They said their goal was to produce a "just outcome commensurate with the offense."
"Our sole objective in this case was to dismantle an organization that, we believe, routinely resorted to violence," Mark Cheshire, a spokesman for the Baltimore City state's attorney's office, wrote in an e-mail. "Different participants, we allege, played different roles. This is a reasonable sentence and reflects him from re-engaging with the Black Guerrilla Family."
Authorities say the indictments — celebrated at two news conferences last fall, including one held at a park in North Baltimore — have delivered a blow against a ruthless group within the gang that they say had a role in 19 killings since 2006.
Prosecutors have used conspiracy and gang laws to try to draw together eight years of criminal activity in the Barclay and Green Mount Cemetery areas.
Several attorneys have said prosecutors are merely reviving cases that have already been adjudicated to bring cases against suspects whom they can't otherwise tie to new criminal activity.
Defense attorneys say prosecutors are reaching out with plea offers. Thomas Maronick Jr. said his client, 22-year-old Anthony Evans, rejected an offer that would have also resulted in time served. Maronick said Evans wants to fight the charges, which Maronick called "unconstitutional."
"It's a real gut-check for him to turn down getting out of jail … to stand up for the principles of the Constitution," Maronick said. "I was surprised [by his decision], but I was happy. It's absolutely the right call."
A significant amount of evidence has not been turned over to defense attorneys, and a hearing is scheduled for the fall about the conditions under which the evidence will be shared.
Commodore is to be placed on probation for three years, 18 months of which is to be supervised. If he violates probation, Circuit Judge John Addison Howard could impose the rest of the six-year sentence.
Another defendant, Michael Robinson, also pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to eight years with all but five suspended. Robinson's case also was based on an old drug charge to which he had already admitted years earlier. Prosecutors also added an obstruction-of-justice charge following his indictment.
Assistant State's Attorney Thiru Vignarajah said in court that while Robinson incarcerated, he was recorded on an intercepted phone call with a co-defendant speculating about who might be cooperating witnesses. Vignarajah said Robinson was recorded saying he would "take care of it."
Robinson's attorney, Christopher Nieto, could not be reached for comment.
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