Father held in death of son's accuser

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The father of the man accused of killing Tauris Johnson, the 10-year-old East Baltimore boy cut down in November by a stray bullet, was charged yesterday in the shooting death of a key witness against his son.

Two bullets were fired into the face of Latisha "Jets" Murphy on Feb. 12 -- one day after Nathaniel Dawson Sr. met with his jailed son, Nathaniel Dawson Jr., a paroled New York drug dealer -- authorities said yesterday.

In addition to indicting the elder Dawson in the death of Mrs. Murphy -- described by authorities as a witness to the Tauris Johnson shooting -- a federal grand jury charged the younger Mr. Dawson with killing the Johnson youth and with involvement in the witness' death.

In announcing the charges against the father and son, authorities said the "brazen and chilling" violence surrounding the case prompted local and federal investigators to work together to bring about a five-count indictment returned yesterday by a federal grand jury.

The federal indictment came two months after Baltimore prosecutors dismissed charges against the younger Dawson, who was arrested Dec. 8 in connection with the slaying of Tauris Johnson. Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms said yesterday that the local charges were dropped to clear the way for prosecution in federal court.

The charges in Mrs. Murphy's death marked the first time authorities had suggested publicly that the fatal shooting was motivated by her testimony before a federal grand jury investigating the younger Mr. Dawson's alleged drug activity and the Dawsons' desire to silence her.

Authorities described the indictment in the slaying of Mrs. Murphy -- who police said operated a stash house for the younger Mr. Dawson -- as a warning to anyone tempted to intimidate witnesses.

"As a result of her being a witness, she was murdered," said Lynne A. Battaglia, U.S. attorney for Maryland.

"We're hopeful [the indictment] will show them we really mean business."

The elder Mr. Dawson met with his son in the Prince George's County Detention Center on Feb. 11, the day before the Murphy slaying, according to the indictment.

The indictment says Seth Webb, 24, described by authorities as a "lieutenant" in an alleged Dawson drug ring, pointed out Mrs. Murphy to the elder Mr. Dawson, who is charged with shooting her in the 1700 block of Crystal Ave., near the 1700 block of E. Oliver St., where the Johnson youth was killed.

Tauris was killed while playing football outside his home. Authorities said yesterday that the boy was caught in a shoot-out involving the younger Mr. Dawson and members his purported ring.

The younger Mr. Dawson, Mr. Webb and three men identified only by the street names "Uptown," "Mike" and "Chris" were indicted under federal laws that provide mandatory sentences of life without parole for engaging in violence in furtherance of a conspiracy to sell drugs.

The elder Mr. Dawson was charged with killing a federal witness, which allows for the death penalty, but prosecutors declined to seek that punishment, Ms. Battaglia said.

Ms. Battaglia said yesterday that Mrs. Murphy had turned down an offer for witness protection. She would not say whether authorities have provided protection for other witnesses in the case.

The three men identified only by street names remain fugitives, said authorities, who refused to divulge the men's identities. The case is scheduled to go to trial Oct. 3.

The younger Mr. Dawson, who will turn 25 tomorrow, was arrested at an apartment in the Bronx, N.Y. He was charged with murder in the the Johnson boy's death and also was charged in federal court with running a cocaine distribution ring with headquarters on Regester Street between Federal and Oliver streets.

In February, when Mrs. Murphy was shot, authorities confirmed that she was a witness to the Johnson slaying. Police said then that they were looking into whether she was killed to prevent her from testifying but that they remained uncertain about the motive.

In March, Baltimore prosecutors dropped the murder charge against the younger Mr. Dawson, but he remained jailed on the federal drug charges.

Authorities refused then to spell out their plans, but several signs pointed to a strategy of pursuing the allegations in federal court, where less restrictive rules of evidence would allow allegations of violence to be described in the context of drug activity.

Yesterday, Mr. Simms said, "We decided that all the matters should be consolidated in one jurisdiction, in this case in U.S. District Court and using the federal grand jury."

The elder Mr. Dawson, 55, of the Bronx was arrested in March on federal charges linking him to his son's alleged drug ring.

The Dawsons and Mr. Webb remain in federal custody, authorities said yesterday. Beverly Brown, a Baltimore woman who is described as the younger Mr. Dawson's girlfriend and who also was indicted on drug charges by the federal grand jury, is awaiting trial at an East Baltimore halfway house, court records show.

The most recent charges were announced at a news conference attended by federal and city prosecutors, city police officials and federal drug and weapons agents.

Craig N. Chretien, assistant special agent in charge of the DEA's Baltimore office, stood before television cameras to say investigators were inspired by a desire "not to let any low-life scum control our streets."

The younger Mr. Dawson's lawyer, Paul M. Polansky, said, "These are nothing but allegations, and it's easy to make allegations. . . . I would like to see what proof they have, if any."

Mrs. Murphy's husband, Johnny L. Murphy, said yesterday that he was "relieved" to hear of the charges. He said he wasn't surprised to hear that the Dawsons are accused of plotting his wife's death. "Drugs invade the home and it takes complete families, not just one member of the family," he said.

"It's been a lot of hardship and pain for me and my family, and right now I don't want to comment any further than that," Mr. Murphy said.

Precious Melody Johnson welcomed news that charges had been brought against the younger Mr. Dawson in the death of her brother Tauris, who would have turned 11 on April 29.

"I'm glad. I'm happy. I hope they find him guilty," said Precious, 16, a student at Patterson Park High School.

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