Two killings and a rumor tore in half a tight-knit group of friends who dealt drugs together in West Baltimore, prosecutors say, and on Monday, a city grand jury indicted the crew's few surviving members on charges that they killed off their former associates.
Retaliatory violence among the members of the crew left seven dead, according to prosecutors, in addition to attempts on the lives of several other people. Two of the killings are still under investigation.
James Berry III, once a promising boxer, was charged with four counts of murder and faces additional charges in several attempted killings. The Baltimore Sun reported in December that Berry, 25, was being investigated in a triple shooting that killed two brothers and injured their mother. That case revealed disagreements among police and prosecutors over when to bring charges.
The latest charges bring to nine the number of people police have accused Berry of shooting since 2008. Six have died.
Three of Berry's associates — Tyrone Carter, 23, Travian Taylor, 22, and Quinzell Covington, 27 — were also charged in the alleged murder conspiracy.
Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein said the wave of violence began with the killing of Brian Goodwin in June 2008. Bernstein said Berry spread a rumor that another crew member had killed him.
"That murder divided a group of friends who called themselves 'D-Block' and touched off a years-long war of retaliation," Bernstein said.
Prosecutors say Berry and about nine other people were members of D-Block, which they say dealt drugs near the corner of Division and Bloom streets in Druid Heights.
When Goodwin was killed in 2008, prosecutors say, Berry told others that crew member Romie Ziegler was responsible.
Ziegler was killed days later in the same block, and the group split, with members either remaining loyal to Berry or blaming Berry for Ziegler's death, prosecutors said. A man named James Wesley Spriggs is serving a life sentence for Goodwin's murder.
Among the killings Berry is now charged with are the fall 2008 double shooting of cousins Justin Berry and Howard Grant, alleged D-Block members who turned away from Berry after Ziegler's killing.
In 2008, The Sun reported that Justin Berry, a freshman at Morgan State University, and Grant had survived several shootings and police feared they could be targeted. The men declined to go into a protection program and refused to cooperate with police. They were shot dead days later.
Justin Berry and James Berry are not related, prosecutors said.
From 2009 until 2012, various members of the group were in and out of jail and prison on various charges, which prosecutors say temporarily halted the cycle of violence. Most of the defendants are also accused in two separate shootings that wounded three people in 2012.
In November 2012, prosecutors say, James Berry and codefendants Carter and Taylor kicked down the door of the home of the mother of Brandon Horton, another former D-Block member who had turned against Berry.
Horton was not home. In apparent frustration, the attackers opened fire, prosecutors say, killing Horton's brothers, Allen and Darian, and injuring Renee Horton, their mother.
James Berry was a boxer who won the Golden Gloves state and regional titles. The Baltimore Sun in 2007 chronicled his challenge staying away from the drug dealing that had gotten both his parents in trouble. By the next year, he was charged with murder. He would be acquitted.
In March 2011, gunmen fired 30 bullets at three people sitting on a bench in Bolton Hill, killing Angelo Fitzgerald. Police had evidence linking Berry to the crime, sources told The Sun last year, but there was disagreement among authorities about whether it was enough to file charges.
The shooting that killed the Horton brothers focused police attention on Berry again, and prosecutors authorized charges after reinterviewing witnesses.
The Fitzgerald case is still pending. On Monday, Bernstein said that prosecutors did not have enough evidence to charge Berry in the Fitzgerald case in 2011.
"These are very difficult cases to put together," Bernstein said. "By the time that we made the charges, we believed we had sufficient evidence to proceed."
Berry's attorney, Russell Neverdon, is representing Carter in a gun case also related to the indictment. He said he did not have information about the new charges against either man. He maintained Berry's innocence in the Bolton Hill triple shooting.
Attorney Sharon May, who represented Covington in a Baltimore County murder case in which he was convicted last year, said she was unaware of the new charges and declined to comment.
In December 2012, alleged D-Block member Angelo Ward, Berry's best friend and a fellow boxer, was shot to death outside his home.
Carter, Taylor and several others were stopped in a car later that day and found with four handguns. Police believe they were on their way to exact revenge for Ward's killing.
Another man in the car and charged in the gun case, Melvin Taylor, was himself fatally shot in May of this year. The deaths of Ward and Taylor remain under investigation.
twitter.com/justin_fentonCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun