Leaders of a violent East Baltimore drug ring that authorities say was responsible for five city killings, including a brazen shooting at a "Rest in Peace" party thrown to remember a rival gang member, avoided a lengthy federal trial set to begin yesterday with guilty pleas expected to bring sentences of 30 years or more.
The "Hot Boys" gang leaders had faced narcotics and weapons charges in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Prosecutors decided last year that they would not pursue death sentences, but in some instances the defendants could have been sentenced to life in prison.
In court records, prosecutors had given a stark account of how the Hot Boys gained respect and intimidated others in the drug trade by gunning down rivals, including Keith "Bones" Hamlet.
A "Rest in Peace" block party thrown to remember Hamlet during Memorial Day weekend 2001 ended with gunfire from members of the Hot Boys gang that wounded 11 people and killed Lakeisha Monich Moten, 24, the girlfriend of one of the leaders of a rival gang loosely known as the "North Avenue/Harford Road Boys."
The boldness of the shooting at the crowded party outside Hamlet's aunt's home at 2032 E. North Ave. - the site of Hamlet's slaying six months earlier - served as sad proof of Baltimore's unrelenting gun violence.
It also led authorities to prosecute the case in federal court, where the defendants were more likely to face longer sentences than in the city's court system, without parole.
Last winter, prosecutors charged 12 members of the Hot Boys gang in a 23-count indictment. The three men identified as leaders - Charles "Bok" Byers, Leon Coleman and Darryl "Tiger" Robertson - pleaded guilty late last week to a drug distribution conspiracy charge.
Byers is expected to receive a 35-year prison term in exchange for his guilty plea; Coleman and Robertson could each receive 30-year terms. Another defendant, Kevin "Manny" Glenn, who was accused of being the triggerman in Hamlet's death, also pleaded guilty and could receive a 30-year term.
One other lead player in the group, Darryl "DJ" Hairston, pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as part of a drug conspiracy. He is expected to receive a 20-year sentence.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys declined to comment yesterday on the case, which is continuing. Five defendants accused of playing lesser roles in the drug operations are expected to stand trial March 17. They are: Elijah Richardson, Maurice "Moan" Boston, Anthony "Stink" Joyner, Brian "Little Brian" Belton and Gary Hall.
All of the men are from Baltimore.
Two other defendants - Dietrich Fortune and Cornell Ward - earlier entered guilty pleas in the case.
The pleas from the gang's leaders last week came as attorneys prepared for a trial that was expected to expose the deadly inner-workings of the Hot Boys as they protected their turf and what authorities described as a lucrative cocaine and heroin business at East Lafayette Avenue and North Washington Street.
Federal authorities said the gang was responsible for the Sept. 16, 2000, deaths of Randolph "Bert" Homes and Darrin "D-Nice" Griffin in a wooded area in the 4500 block of Clifton Road. Griffin had reportedly stolen money and drugs from one of the gang's stash houses.
The group also was accused in the fatal shooting of Robert "Tony" Bland, who was believed to be a rival gang member. Bland was killed Jan. 6, 2001.