Two gunmen opened fire on 12-year-old Sean Johnson and his friends in 2011 to "send a message" to their East Baltimore neighborhood, prosecutors said Thursday at the start of the trial of the alleged gang members accused of killing Johnson and wounding three of his friends.
Defense attorneys for Danyae Robinson, 31, and Derrick Brown, 20, urged jurors not to let the circumstances of the attack cloud their judgment. Roland Brown, Robinson's attorney, said the state has no concrete evidence linking the defendants to the shooting — only "an array of hearsay."
Sean Johnson and his friends had been sitting on a porch in the Darley Park neighborhood watching an NBA playoff game in May 2011 when someone opened fire on the group. The crime drew broad attention around Baltimore.
Prosecutors said during opening statements Thursday that they would rely on witness statements, ballistics reports and the accounts of the surviving victims to prove that Robinson and Brown were responsible. They are members of the Black Guerrilla Family, prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah said, and were looking for revenge after the shooting of a fellow gang member.
Robinson and Derrick Brown were searching for the shooter, Vignarajah said, but when they could not find him after circling the block several times, "they decided to send a message."
He said the defendants walked up to the first house where they saw people outside and sprayed them with bullets. One boy leapt to another porch to get away. Another teen darted inside the house. A third fell injured onto the sidewalk.
Sean Johnson was shot twice in the head, once in the neck and once in the leg.
The victims were "boys who had done nothing wrong," Vignarajah said. "They were young boys who paid in blood in a war among men."
Sean Johnson, who had taken advanced classes at Montebello Elementary School, died two days after the shooting.
Authorities said at the time that none of the victims had juvenile or adult arrests.
Vignarajah told jurors two witnesses would testify that Robinson and Derrick Brown plotted to kill the person who had shot and wounded a higher-ranking BGF member the night Johnson was killed.
Prosecutors said one witness, Antwan Mosley, was out with Robinson and Derrick Brown the night of the shooting but did not follow them to the crime scene. Mosley is also facing a first-degree murder charge in the attack.
Mosley and a second witness have taken plea deals, and will receive at least 15 years in prison but no more than 30, Vignarajah told jurors.
Russell Neverdon, Derrick Brown's attorney, said those witnesses were not there during the shooting and don't know what happened.
Neverdon also argued their testimony was not credible because they have been offered plea deals.
Attorney Roland Brown argued that the surviving boys might have seen the defendants in the area before the shooting, but they did not see who fired the shots.
Both defense attorneys argued in court last week to have BGF testimony kept out of the trial, saying there was little evidence to show the shooting was gang-related. They said mention of the BGF gang would influence the jury, given recent media attention on the gang.
Police have blamed much of the city's violence on the Black Guerrilla Family, and prosecutors have accused members of orchestrating a drug-smuggling scheme at the Baltimore City Detention Center.
The trial is expected to continue through next week.