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Federal charges sought in fire

Detectives will seek federal grand jury indictments today against four men accused of involvement in a retaliatory firebombing over the weekend at the North Baltimore home of a woman who had reported drug activity to police, a Baltimore police spokesman said.

The four men remained in custody yesterday at the Central Booking and Intake Center after being arrested on state charges of arson and possession of destructive devices, said Agent Donny Moses.

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Online court records show at least two of the suspects also were charged yesterday with attempted first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, and first- and second-degree assault, among other charges. But, Moses said, the federal system offers harsher penalties.

"Our detectives are going to the federal grand jury," Moses said. "Hopefully, we can get them charged federally."

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The firebombing about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, police said, targeted the home of a 59-year-old community activist in Harwood, a neighborhood just east of

. Neighbors said the woman sometimes organized playground cleanup crews, and police said she had been providing information about drug activity near her home on an economically mixed block of East Lorraine Avenue, where rowhouses are fairly neatly kept. Police said she was physically unharmed but has moved for now to another location.

Three squad cars - one guarding the front and two blocking her alley - and a soot mark between two second-floor windows of the woman's home were the only signs yesterday that a crime had been committed on the block.

One neighbor, Nathaniel Wilson, 22, said he had lived across the street from the woman - whose identity and address are being withheld by The Sun for her protection - all of his life. Wilson said the woman was nice "back in the day," but more recently had taken to photographing him and his friends "for no reason" and calling the police when they were simply hanging out in front of their homes.

Among those friends, he said, was Antonino Newsome, 18, a cousin who lives nearby in the 300 block of East Lorraine Ave. Newsome is among the four being held in connection with the firebombing.

Molotov cocktails

"I'm sorry it happened," Wilson said of the incident, which police have said involved four Molotov cocktails - glass bottles filled with flammable liquid and fitted with a wick. But Wilson described his cousin as "cool" and said he was surprised Newsome was arrested. Newsome, Wilson and their friends spend most of their time playing basketball and are not involved in drugs, Wilson said.

"That's what we do," he said about basketball, adding that he doesn't have a job. "We play basketball all day at the elementary school."

Maryland District Court records show no adult criminal record for Newsome. But records show at least one other man arrested in connection with the incident does.

Richard M. Royal, 20, of the 600 block of Wyanoke Ave. was convicted in December of manufacturing and distributing a dangerous, controlled substance. He also has previous convictions - in June 2004 - for second-degree assault and destruction of property.

Also charged in connection with the incident were Jackie Brewington, 18, of the 4100 block of Marx Ave. in Northeast Baltimore and Andre Wilkins, 31, of Randallstown. Brewington's only previous charge was for a loud radio, while Wilkins' record couldn't be ascertained with certainty without a date of birth - which police were unable to provide.

The online court records show Brewington and Royal have been charged with attempted murder and assault. Moses, the police spokesman, said Brewington, Royal and Wilkins are being held without bail. Police were unable to provide information about Newsome's bail.

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Federal agents involved

Agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have been working with Baltimore detectives on the case but couldn't be reached yesterday, a federal holiday. City detectives working on the case also couldn't be reached, and it wasn't clear yesterday whether those detectives would appear before the federal grand jury or allow federal agents and prosecutors to present a case on which city detectives had cooperated.

Moses said he was unfamiliar with differences in potential penalties in the state and federal systems. Margaret Burns, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office, said the office had no comment because prosecutors who will be handling the state's case have yet to review the facts.

Sun staff writer Sarah Schaffer and research librarian Shelia Jackson contributed to this article.

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