After five hours of deliberation, a federal jury convicted Antonio "Mack" Hall on Thursday in the retaliation murder of an FBI informant, who told investigators that Hall liked to "bang the gun" and was connected to several drug-related killings in the city.

Jurors also found Hall guilty of weapons violations and participating in a seven-year conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine in the tiny southern Baltimore community of Westport, where both he and his victim lived. Hall, 30, shot Kareem Kelly Guest a half-dozen times in September 2009 as Guest pleaded for mercy.

Guest would have turned 31 Thursday. His mother slumped on a court bench after the verdict was read and sobbed, her head in her hands. Others called out, "Happy birthday, Kareem."

Hall, who said he had no family in the court, was immediately taken from the room after the proceeding.

"He's finished in the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland," said U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett, who had arranged for Hall to be taken to a federal prison in another state, without revealing where even to his defense attorneys.

"You'll find out," he told them. The judge added that he would "almost certainly" give Hall a life term in prison at his sentencing, scheduled for Nov. 16.

Defense attorneys Gary Proctor and Timothy Sullivan, who were appointed by the court, claimed Guest had many enemies and that Hall wasn't his killer, though the jury rejected the argument.

The conviction was a hard-fought win for the government. No one wanted to testify against Hall, who has a history of punishing so-called "snitches," prosecutors said, and many of those interviewed initially lied about his involvement.

Federal investigators took more than a year to build the case, continuing to chip away at it even when no one would talk, until they got a tip in February of last year that led to a break in the investigation. They relocated witnesses for their safety and used threats of criminal prosecution to pressure those who appeared to be protecting Hall.

They charged one witness with perjury, told another he could be indicted for conspiracy and opened a criminal investigation into the actions of a lawyer who improperly leaked documents that revealed Guest was working with the FBI.

"We will devote every available resource to pursue criminals who retaliate against witnesses," Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in an email. He also had a message to those who might act as Hall did: "Whatever troubles you had before you attacked a witness, we will make things much worse for you."

The indictment against Hall charged him with conspiracy, using a gun in a crime of violence, being a felon in illegal possession of ammunition and using firearms in connection with drug trafficking, though that last charge was dropped by prosecutors this week.

The crux of the case was the killing of the informant, however. If Hall had been just a small-time drug dealer, federal investigators likely wouldn't have bothered pursuing him, prosecutors said.

"He's here because he's a crack dealer who kills people," Assistant U.S. Attorney John F. Purcell told jurors during opening statements last week.

Hall is believed to have killed a 19-year-old rival drug dealer as the young man played video games and to have shot a junkie who had helped police arrest one of Hall's friends in another killing, according to trial testimony. Those crimes were included in the indictment as examples of behavior in the crack conspiracy but not charged separately.

Guest was arrested for heroin distribution in late 2008. He decided to cooperate with investigators, in the hopes it would help his own case, and eventually identified more than a dozen people in the city as killers and drug dealers, including Hall.

The information was used to build a federal drug case against eight defendants in Baltimore, most of whom pleaded guilty before going to trial. Two men pressed on, however, including Larry Cheese, who told his lawyer, Michael Carithers, that he wanted to go before a jury.

To prepare, Carithers went over the evidence with Cheese, and he ultimately gave copies of an FBI report detailing Guest's disclosures, along with similar reports for other informants, to his client and his client's mother. The documents — known as "302s" — were photocopied and pasted all over Westport, an area known for its high concentration of crime.

Carithers, a former federal prosecutor in Detroit, initially denied giving out the 302s, though he changed his story later on, blaming a poor memory for his early statements, and admitted to distributing the documents.

The 302s set the wheels in motion for Guest's murder, attorneys on both sides said during Hall's trial.

"This case tragically demonstrates what can happen when information about witnesses in criminal cases is not protected," Rosenstein said in a separate statement released by his office. "We will continue to use every available resource to pursue criminals who attack or intimidate witnesses."

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts