Federal prosecutors took over the witness-intimidation case yesterday against five men accused of firebombing the home of a North Baltimore community leader last month, a move that could increase the minimum penalties imposed on the defendants if they are convicted.
"Witness intimidation is a serious offense which threatens the integrity of
our criminal justice system," Allen F. Loucks, the interim U.S. attorney for
Maryland, said in a written statement yesterday. "We are using all available
resources to combat this problem in Baltimore, including seeking the stiffest
Randallstown, and Jackie Brewington, 18, Richard
M. Royal, 20, Isaac Smith, 25, and Nakie Harris, 29, all of Baltimore, comes
as authorities continue to wrestle with witness intimidation in the city, a
chronic problem that law enforcement says remains a serious obstacle to
prosecuting many criminal cases.
A sixth person arrested in the Jan. 15 firebombing in the Harwood
neighborhood, Antonio Newsome, was not named in the federal indictment.
Although Newsome was initially identified as 18 years old, he may be a
juvenile, making his prosecution in federal court more difficult, officials
said. It was unclear last night how Newsome's case will be handled.
The five suspects facing federal charges remain in state custody, and no
date for their first appearance in federal court has been set, a spokeswoman
for the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore said.
At least one defense attorney involved in the case criticized the decision
to take the case into federal court.
"It's going to be a battleground," said Edward Smith Jr., Brewington's
attorney. "In modern times, everyone wants to take cases federal."
The firebombing victim, Harwood Community Association president Edna
McAbier, has not returned to her North Lorraine Avenue home. Police continue
to post marked squad cars at the front and rear of her rowhouse.
According to court records, McAbier said her tires were slashed, her car
was vandalized and bricks were thrown at her home's steps in the months before
the firebombing. At McAbier's home, police and fire investigators found
evidence of five Molotov cocktails - brown beer bottles filled with flammable
fluid and with cloth wicks.
In state court, the six men were charged with 13 counts each, including
attempted murder, arson and related felonies, in the attack.
In the federal indictment yesterday, five of them were charged with witness
tampering, conspiracy to commit witness tampering and use of a firearm in the
commission of a crime.
The penalties could be severe. Under the criminal count of witness
tampering alone, the mandatory minimum penalty is 30 years in prison. The
maximum sentence for the charge is life in prison.
"I'm thankful that this has been carried through and that we're seeing
these indictments, because it's in the best interest of the community to have
these thugs off the street," said David Wright, president of the Charles
Village Community Benefits District, which includes Harwood. "I'm sad that
another five men in Baltimore are in this situation, but this ... deserves
strong and resolute action."
City prosecutors plan to drop their charges against the five men named in
lieu of the federal indictment, said Margaret Burns, a spokeswoman for the
state's attorney in Baltimore.
In another case, the local U.S. attorney's office successfully prosecuted
Darrell Brooks, who set a 2002 fire that killed Angela Dawson, her husband and
five of her children. The fire had been set because the Dawsons frequently
called police about drug activity in their East Baltimore neighborhood. Brooks
was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
U.S. is taking arson case
Stiffer penalties possible against 5 defendants; Witness intimidation alleged; Six-count indictment in Harwood firebombing
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
The Baltimore Sun encourages civil dialogue related to our stories; you must register and log-in to our site in order to participate. We reserve the right to remove any user and to delete comments that violate our Terms of Service. By commenting, you agree to these terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.