A Baltimore County jury convicted a man Wednesday of murder in the gang shooting that rocked Towson Town Center mall at the height of the Christmas shopping rush two years ago.
Tyrone Chester Brown Jr., 21, was found guilty of first-degree murder for killing Rodney Pridget in a retaliatory shooting that was to help Brown gain entry to the Black Guerrilla Family gang, State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger said. He faces life in prison without parole when he is sentenced on May 7.
"We feel justice has been served," said William Pridgen, Pridget's uncle. "It's kind of sad because we lost one young man and the other young man is going to lose his freedom."
While Brown was making a bid to hook up with a gang, his 19-year-old victim was trying to turn his life in a different direction, according to Denita Brown, who works at the Northeast Baltimore group home where Pridget lived. She was relieved to learn that Pridget's killer had been convicted, but saddened that the shooter's youthful gang aspirations could ruin his life as well.
"I see it a lot working with these type of kids," she said.
Denita Brown, who works to steer youths away from trouble, thought Pridget was doing well. He was enrolled in a trade school and excited about his new girlfriend, Nautica Reynolds.
But Pridget's uncle said despite the bright spots, his family believed he was involved with a gang.
"He just went down the wrong road," he said, adding that friends of his nephew wore T-shirts at his funeral with pictures of Pridget flashing Crips signs.
Pridget was also on probation at the time of his death in connection with assault and robbery charges, and the BGF members who hunted him down at the mall believed he was behind a shooting of the cousin of a gang leader, according to court records and prosecutors.
Pridget was not charged in connection with the shooting.
At trial, prosecutors said Tyrone Brown had journeyed from Baltimore city to kill Pridget, whom prosecutors said the gang had identified using Facebook.
"That was a man who was on a mission and knew what he was going to do," Deputy State's Attorney Robin Coffin said during the trial.
Jermell "Bloody Mel" Monte Brandon, 36, spotted Pridget at the mall out shopping with Reynolds six days before Christmas 2011. He called Frank Williams, 32, who got William Ward III, 45, and drove out to Towson with Tyrone Brown.
The events leading up to the murder were captured by some of the mall's 268 surveillance cameras, and prosecutors described how Brandon stalked Pridget through the mall before Brown shot him six times outside the Nordstrom store.
The shooting shocked shoppers and showed how Baltimore's violence can spill over into the county. But Shellenberger said that groups like the BGF, which has been blamed for a spike in violence in the city, have a presence in most areas in Maryland.
"This group just happened to have come out from Baltimore City," Shellenberger added.
Ward and Williams were previously convicted of first-degree murder at trial and sentenced to life without parole last year. Brandon pleaded guilty to federal charges and testified against the other three.
Tyrone Brown's attorney, Lawrence Rosenberg, argued during the trial that the state did not have enough evidence against his client to prove its case. He declined to answer questions In an interview Wednesday.
"The system is what is," he said.
Denita Brown did not know exactly why Pridget had been sent to live in the group home, but said his mother had died, his father, a convicted drug dealer, was in prison, and his grandmother was too old to take care of him. But when Pridget arrived, he and Brown just "clicked" she said.
"He was like a son to me," Brown added. "It's a senseless murder that shouldn't even have happened, because he was a good kid."