Federal authorities charged the alleged ringleaders of one of West Baltimore's most violent drug gangs yesterday with carrying out the slayings of six people, including one man who prosecutors say was killed to prevent him from testifying about an earlier double homicide.
Investigators said the gang, the Lexington Terrace Boys, used violence to target rival dealers, potential witnesses, deadbeat customers and any others who threatened the group's crack-cocaine business that has operated since 1999 from the Lexington Terrace and Edgar Allan Poe Homes public housing complexes.
The gang's three reputed leaders each could face the federal death penalty if convicted of using a firearm to commit murder as part of a drug conspiracy. The men also face a federal drug trafficking charge that could mean life in prison. Other charges returned by a federal grand jury included carjacking and witness-tampering.
"We're not messing around against these gangs," U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio said. "We're going to go after them, and we're going to go after them hard."
The case is the latest instance in which federal authorities have stepped in to prosecute some of the city's worst violent crimes since DiBiagio took office a year ago. At least one of the Lexington Terrace defendants, Aaron Demarco Foster, had beaten attempted murder charges in state court after a jury trial in 1998, records show.
Foster, 23, who is known on the street as "Turk," "Ace" and "Little Aaron," was charged in the federal case along with Keon D. Moses, 19, also known as "Black," and Michael Lafayette Taylor, 18, whose street nickname is "Mike Mumbles." All three were in custody yesterday on related state charges.
Each man is charged with at least one killing. Taylor and Moses are charged together in the double homicide and in a witness killing.
The federal case against the three men is striking for the number of homicides and other violent crimes it includes, said FBI officials who worked the case with city police and public housing officers. Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris said he had been at some of the homicide scenes and described them as "horrific."
"This is an extremely dangerous crew that was taken down," Norris said.
Special Agent Michael W. Ross, a supervisor in the FBI's Baltimore field office, said the number of homicides linked to the Lexington Terrace gang was "virtually unprecedented in what we've seen here in the past."
Among the six people the leaders of the Lexington Terrace Boys are accused of killing was 24-year-old Robert "Snoop" McManus, who was slain Feb. 22 to stop him from testifying about a double homicide that occurred the previous year, the indictment charged.
That incident, on Sept. 23, 2001, left 23-year-old Ronald Harris and 30-year-old Gregory Spain, 30, dead, and another man, Charles Brockington, 22, wounded after a shooting inside the basement of a rowhouse in the 300 block of Calhoun St.
The indictment said the accused gang leaders attempted in April to kidnap another potential witness to the September 2001 slayings. In another apparent attempt to cover their tracks, the men are accused of burning a stolen car used during the killings.
The first homicide federal authorities attribute to the Lexington Terrace Boys was the killing of Kevin James, 29, on June 11, 1999. The indictment says James' death was followed about a year later by the death of 18-year-old Cortez Bailey, who was shot in the head near his home in Reservoir Hill.
The most recent victim named in yesterday's indictment was Travis Burley, 20, who authorities say also was known on the street as "Phat Harold" and was killed April 1 - the same day his mother has said she saw him head out the back door of the family's south-side rowhouse and step into an idling green minivan.
After Burley's killing, the indictment charges, the three men set fire to a rowhouse in the 1600 block of N. Caroline St. to destroy evidence of the slaying.
Each of Burley's two older brothers was killed on Baltimore streets years earlier. Their mother, Elenora McCutcheon, had spent the months since Travis' disappearance hoping against hope for his safe return.
"I pray for visions to draw me to him," McCutcheon told The Sun in July. "God, I want to find my Travis."
DiBiagio said that by pursuing the Lexington Terrace case in U.S. District Court, authorities could provide greater protections to victims and potential witnesses - an acknowledgement of the city court system's long troubles with witnesses who change their stories or refuse to come to court.
The state's chief federal prosecutor said the indictment also should send a message that U.S. authorities will go after Baltimore's drug lords, the ones largely responsible for the city's grim homicide toll year after year.
"Let the word go out that we're going after the leaders, we're going for the top," DiBiagio said. "We're not going to stop at the midlevel players."
Records made public yesterday suggest that in the Lexington Terrace case, some of the victims were the very midlevel players who wore bandannas and other clothes to mark their allegiance to the gang, along with tattoos that read "LT" or "Terrace Life."
Travis Burley and his mother had lived in the Poe Homes, and he remained close to some of the troubled young men in that neighborhood. The day before he disappeared, he told his mother he was going to buy a gun for protection. If anything were to happen to him, he told his worried mother, one of his friends would be responsible.