Rodney Pridget and his girlfriend were unaware they were being followed as they stopped at Build-A-Bear Workshop, Nordstrom and other stores at a crowded Towson Town Center Mall six days before Christmas.
But as they left the mall, a man vying to become a member of the Black Guerrilla Family gang in North Baltimore fired six shots and killed the 19-year-old Pridget, according to prosecutors.
The prosecution of the men accused in the shooting has shed light on an incident that shook holiday patrons in the Baltimore County seat and illustrated how violence from a city gang dispute can spill into a busy suburban mall.
Prosecutors said the defendants believed the victim had shot and wounded a gang member's cousin; Pridget was not charged in that incident.
Two of four defendants in Pridget's death were convicted this week, in a trial that described the multi-layered organization of the BGF gang. A fellow shopper allegedly saw Pridget and reported his location to a low-level commander. The man told a senior-level "bushman," who set off for the mall to order the hit.
"At the mall, each had a role to play," Deputy State's Attorney Robin Coffin said during closing arguments in the trial.
As the couple stopped to eat at the food court and perused stores alongside other hurried holiday shoppers, prosecutors said, Pridget was spotted by Jermell "Bloody Mel" Monte Brandon, 35. He allegedly called Frank Theodore Williams, 32, prompting William Ward III, 45, known as "Unc," to authorize the killing.
Williams and Ward were convicted of first-degree murder after a weeklong trial. Their sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 12.
Brandon, also charged with murder, has taken a federal plea deal and been given 20 years in prison with the possibility of parole. His attorney, William Purpora, declined to comment.
Next year, prosecutors will try Tyrone Chester Brown Jr., 19, the man accused of pulling the trigger. His attorney, Lawrence B. Rosenberg, declined to comment.
Prosecutors said the BGF members targeted Pridget because they believed he was responsible for a nonfatal shooting of a gang member's cousin, Dustin Smith, on Dec. 4, 2011, in Baltimore.
During Williams and Ward's trial, prosecutors sought to recreate the evening at the mall.
Jurors were presented with surveillance video from 268 mall security cameras, pieced together by Baltimore County police detectives. The sequence of images showed each suspect making his way around the mall, and matched up with cellphone records, which prosecutors said proved the men were discussing the hit.
A federal confidential informant identified Brandon and Ward as members of the BGF gang that operated out of the Pen Lucy and Waverly neighborhoods along Greenmount Avenue in North Baltimore.
Baltimore County police detective Chris Hodnicki, who specializes in gang intelligence, testified that Ward was a senior-level "bushman," who held authority over other members, and Williams was a lower-level "commander." He said Brown, the alleged shooter, was trying to gain credibility with the gang and become a member.
When called to testify, Brandon said he grew up with Frank Williams. He said he met with Ward and Williams at Williams' mother's house and discussed killing Pridget.
On the stand, he said Williams pulled up Pridget's picture on Facebook using his phone and "talked about how we was going to get him."
"Get him?'" asked Coffin, the prosecutor.
"Kill him," Brandon responded.
"This is clearly structured as a gang hit," Coffin said to the jury.
Brandon had been shopping with a cousin at the mall when he spotted Pridget and his girlfriend at the Downtown Locker Room. Prosecutors said he called Williams, who later arrived at the mall with Ward.
Blurry, black-and-white surveillance footage showed the men arriving at the entrance to Macy's. A final image showed Brown exiting the Nordstrom after Pridget and his girlfriend.
During an interview with Detective Jim Lambert, Ward denied that he had seen the other defendants. But Lambert countered that Ward could easily be spotted with the men because his white shoes stuck out. The shoes, the detective said, matched a pair taken from Ward's home after police executed a search warrant weeks after the shooting.
"I think you told him to shoot him," Lambert said. "You end up following the victim in my case."
Defense lawyers in the recent trial called into question the state's narrative of the events that led to Pridget's death.
Michelle J. Moodispaw, Ward's attorney, questioned whether the prosecution was asking jurors to read too much into the gestures seen on tape; maybe he wasn't pointing out a hit.
"Is he pointing at the victim or is he gesturing in his direction?" she asked.
Williams' attorneys said their client was no ruthless gang member, calling him "a patsy," used by the gang and by police to help identify the alleged shooter.
"Frank Williams is considered dumb, he is considered stupid," Hossein Parvizian, one of his defense lawyers, said. "Frank Williams is innocent of any kind of conspiracy."
But the prosecutor, Coffin argued the evidence against the defendants was overwhelming.
Williams and Ward, she said, "are as guilty as if they stood there on that corner and shot Rodney Pridget to death."
She concluded by showing jurors a crime scene photo, leaving them with an image of teen lying on the dark sidewalk, wearing jeans, a striped shirt and jacket, with blood draining from his face.
The jury convicted Ward and Williams in two days.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun