A North Baltimore community activist's home was firebombed only after drug dealers decided that shooting her in the head would not intimidate her neighborhood enough, federal prosecutors said yesterday.
Nakie Harris, 30, Richard Royal, 21, and Terrence Smith, 24, have spent the past week on trial, charged with murder conspiracy and witness intimidation in the attack on Harwood Community Association President Edna McAbier on Jan. 15.
Closing arguments from attorneys in the case yesterday meant the jury should begin deliberating this morning.
Defense attorneys challenged almost every aspect of the case, zeroing in on the truthfulness of co-defendants who testified as part of plea agreements.
But authorities insisted that Smith, a reputed gang leader, was incensed about McAbier's calls and e-mails to police about drug dealers in her neighborhood, witnesses said. In retaliation, Smith "wanted to put a shotgun to her head," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kwame Manley told jurors yesterday.
Smith and his Blood "warriors" dismissed the idea because the method wouldn't be dramatic enough to instill fear in the community, according to prosecutors. Instead, prosecutors say, they filled empty beer bottles with gasoline, stuffed cloth wicks in the top and threw the flaming bottles onto McAbier's windowsill and steps just before 1:40 a.m.
Both of the exits to her home were to be engulfed in flames, according to prosecutors.
"She stood up" to the drug dealers, Manley said of McAbier, who listened in the courtroom yesterday. "And what does she get for standing up?"
Gang members also considered targeting a second firebombing victim but never followed through, according to one witness.
Manley implored jurors to remember the heinousness of the crime and to "do justice in this case."
Other defendants in the case - Jackie Brewington, 26, Isaac Smith, 19, and Andre Wilkins, 32 - pleaded guilty to avoid trial. They each testified against their fellow Blood gang members.
But breaking ranks so disturbed Brewington during his testimony that he banged his head against the wall and gave himself a bloody nose after punching himself in the face.
The case is the latest in Baltimore's continuing struggle over witness intimidation. Last year, the Stop Snitching DVD became an underground phenomenon that rippled across the county, promoting the idea that cooperating with the police was an unforgivable sin.
So local prosecutors have selectively turned to federal authorities to handle some of their most violent and complex cases.
A conviction in federal court can also come with a high price. If found guilty of the most serious charge, Terrence Smith, Harris and Royal each face a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison.
Opposing attorneys spent most of yesterday summing up their case to the jury. After closing arguments, Judge J. Frederick Motz gave the jury his instructions and ordered them to return this morning to deliberate.
Prosecutors described Harris as a convicted cocaine dealer who led the group on the night of the attack. He took his instructions from Terrence Smith, authorities said.
But Harris' attorney, Randolph O. Gregory Sr., dismissed the account because "we only have the words of the Bloods." Harris was never a gang member, Gregory said.
The night before the attack, prosecutors said, Wilkins drove a white van to two gas stations and a bar to buy gasoline and a six-pack of beer.
Surveillance video and electronic receipts confirmed the purchases, prosecutors said.
But Chris Davis, Royal's attorney, said his client had been misidentified from a grainy picture as the person who bought the beer.
Davis added: "There is no identifying forensic evidence in this case."
At a home near McAbier's, gang members allegedly emptied the beer bottles and refilled them with $2 worth of gasoline, affixing wicks to their tops to make six Molotov cocktails. McAbier called 911 at 1:40 a.m. to report a loud noise on her roof. Liquid, she added, was burning on the pavement in front along Lorraine Avenue.
McAbier, a neighborhood resident for more than 30 years and an activist in recent years, testified last week that she had long been a victim of witness intimidation that climaxed with the firebombing.
She could not identify her attackers, she said.
While prosecutors lacked forensic evidence linking the defendants on trial to the scene, they called Tiara Demory to the stand as an independent witness who was never charged in the crime.
But defense attorneys took exception with her account. They reminded the jury that Demory's brother, Antonio Newsome, had once been a suspect.
City prosecutors dropped their case against Newsome last month at the request of federal prosecutors, according to city officials.
Newsome had a personal run-in with McAbier and a history of arson, according to attorney Charles Bernstein who represents Terrence Smith. He questioned whether prosecutors had relied too heavily on witnesses who had something to gain from the case.
"You need better testimony" to convict, Bernstein told jurors. "And this isn't it."