They were just kids, really, two 14-year-old boys sent to do an executioner's job.
Yet there they were, in the woods near the Frisbee golf course in Druid Hill Park, standing with their buddy, 18-year-old Daniel Carter.
Dwayne Brown, the 29-year-old drug dealer who employed the boys, had given them an order regarding Mr. Carter, whom he had accused of stealing $900 in drug profits: "Kill him, or I'll kill you."
So, as the boys stood with their intended victim, Brown sat in a van parked not too far away, listening for the crack of a .32-caliber pistol firing in the night.
The boys -- S. T. and a relative, Garland "Pookie" Moore, both now 15 -- are but two of the thousands of high school, middle school and even elementary school students who have put aside their school books and taken to dealing drugs.
Both boys took separate paths in to the drug world, yet both ended up in the same places: the woods of Druid Hill Park and, later, the City Jail and the Baltimore Circuit Court, where they would be held to account for the September 11 murder of Mr. Carter.
Information about their lives has been compiled from records in the Circuit Court, from closing arguments during Dwayne Brown's trial and from interviews with the prosecutor.
S. T., who pleaded guilty to man slaughter in juvenile court, is not being identified in this story because he was ultimately tried as a juvenile. Pookie Moore was tried as an adult and pleaded guilty to second degree murder in Circuit Court.
According to court records, S. T. was a one-time class clown who loved to go to baseball games and the circus with his grandfather. He did yard work and odd jobs in his East Baltimore neighborhood. He told authorities he had looked for regular employment, but no one would hire him because he was too young.
Even if he had found a $4.50-an-hour job, it wouldn't have paid him the kind of money needed to buy sweatsuits and tennis shoes like those his buddies sported. He couldn't go to his mother for money. She was barely getting by. Living in an East Baltimore rooming house, she supported her family on $480 a month in welfare benefits and food stamps.
But there was someone who would hire S. T. and pay him more in a week than the state gave his family in a month. Dwayne Brown, the drug dealer, would fulfill S. T.'s need for money, just as he would fulfill another need for Pookie Moore.
Unlike S. T., who had no convictions before meeting Brown, Pookie Moore had been in juvenile court for stealing a Big Wheel bicycle when he was 11 years old. In March 1990, he and some friends attacked a pedestrian and beat him up "because we just wanted to have some fun," as he later put it to a court psychologist. He was convicted of assault and given probation.
According to a court examiner, what Pookie Moore needed most was a father figure, a positive role model, a big brother. All the state agencies that dealt with him knew that. Pookie Moore knew that, too. After his March 1990 arrest for assault, he said he wanted to be sent to live with his father in North Carolina. Juvenile authorities said that they would look into the matter.
That was in the spring of 1990. By summer, Pookie Moore and S. T. were working for Dwayne Brown, the "cool" guy, the drug dealer who paid well, the man twice their age who gave them attention and advised them to stay in school, the puppet master who put a gun in their hands and ordered them to kill a man or be killed themselves.
"He is the person who basically ruined everybody's life he touched," prosecutor Albert E. Phillips said of Brown.
After S. T. pleaded guilty to manslaughter, he was returned to the juvenile system. Pookie Moore faces a 25-year prison sentence because of his guilty plea to second-degree murder in Circuit Court.
Another young man involved in the murder, Robert Antoine Brown, 18, also pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and faces 15 years in prison. All three testified against Dwayne Brown at his trial in June.
"In this case, I thought it was important to let the jury see both kids," said Mr. Phillips. "I thought it was important for the jury to see them so they could see that the person we're going after, even though he is not the shooter, he's the main actor."
Brown, convicted by a jury of first-degree murder, conspiracy, kidnapping and other charges, faces a possible prison term of two consecutive life sentences plus 76 years.
The crimes began early in September, when $900 of Dwayne Brown's drug profits came up missing.
S. T. was supposed to guard the money and drugs Dwayne Brown kept inside an East Baltimore row house in the 2000 block of Mura Street, a narrow, cramped street that is little more than an alley bounded by small houses.
S. T. later said that before he went to sleep on the night of Sept. 10, 1990, he made sure that two other members of the drug gang in the house, Antonio "Bony Tony" Robertson, 19, and Mr. Carter had gone to sleep. When S. T. woke up, Mr. Carter and Mr. Robertson were gone, and so was $900.
Later, S. T. told police, "I didn't take no money, because I was, like, well, $900, it's not enough for me, you know what I mean? I can spend $900 quick as I can spend $200." S. T. said he left the Mura Street house and told another member of the gang what had happened. When he and the gang member returned, Dwayne Brown was waiting. He was angry. He wanted to know what had happened to his money. S. T. said he didn't take it. The co-worker backed up S. T.'s statement. Brown wasn't satisfied.
He told S. T. that if he didn't find the suspected thief, Bony Tony Robertson, he -- S. T. -- would have to take responsibility. "I wanted my life," S. T. told the police, "so, I went to Bony Tony's house."
But Brown found Mr. Robertson before S. T. did. By the time S. T. returned to the Mura Street drug house, the violence had started.
"They said Bony Tony getting beat up, yo. He getting beat up bad," S. T. told police.
A golf club, a two-by-four, fists, all rained down on Mr. Robertson's face, head and chest. Where was the money? That's all Dwayne Brown wanted to know. Mr. Robertson said that he didn't take the money. But he reminded Brown that Mr. Carter had a key to the Mura Street house.
Another fight erupted, this time between Mr. Carter and Mr. Robertson, each desperate to pin the loss on the other and thus save himself. Members of the drug gang jumped both men and beat them. Still, Dwayne Brown wasn't satisfied.
S. T. said that the drug dealer put a gun to his head and again demanded an explanation. S. T. said that he didn't take the money. He had reported the theft as soon as he found out the money was missing. Brown then went to Mr. Robertson, who also denied taking the money. For whatever reasons, Brown decided Mr. Carter was guilty.
"After he put the gun to my head, . . . I was like, I don't want to die because, my mother having a baby, I want to live and be there and see the baby. So, he said, 'Well, you going to have to shoot him or you gonna die.' And, you know, I didn't want to die," S. T. said.
The drug gang grabbed Mr. Carter and led him to Dwayne Brown's van. Brown drove to Druid Hill Park, ordered the two boys and Mr. Carter out of the van and told them to take Mr. Carter to the woods.
S. T. had the gun but not the nerve. Back at the Mura Street house he had promised Mr. Carter that he would not kill him. He had a plan. Yes, they would go to the woods, but he would just shoot the gun in the air. Then Mr. Carter would run away, leave East Baltimore and never return. S. T. and Pookie Moore would go back and tell Dwayne Brown that the deed was done. Everything would be OK. "Yeah, first I had the gun," S. T. told police. "But I was shaking. I couldn't shoot him and I was like, I can't do it, Pookie. I cannot kill him because me and him was friends. Then I hand Pookie over the gun, and Pookie had the gun, and before I could really, you know, say something."
Pookie Moore described the shooting this way:"We got him like in the middle, like somewhere in the woods and [S. T.] was about to, um, shoot him, but [S. T.] was too scared. So he had gave me the gun. So, I just shot at him and, and ran."
The next day, police found Mr. Carter's bruised and beaten body. He had been shot once in the head. Three days later, Mr. Robertson saw a report of the murder and told police what he knew. His statements led homicide detectives to Robert Antoine Brown, who in turn led investigators to S. T. and Pookie and, finally, to Dwayne Brown. "The guy's a menace," Mr. Phillips said of Dwayne Brown. "Even if nobody had died, just what he had done to Garland Moore and S. T. and Bony Tony deserves [the conviction]. The scars are not only on Bony Tony."