Rare federal death penalty trial begins

Prosecutors opened a rare federal death penalty trial yesterday against three young Baltimore men who authorities say carried out a string of brutal homicides as they staked out territory in the city's crack cocaine trade under the name of the now-razed west-side housing project where they grew up together.

Authorities say the gang, the Lexington Terrace Boys, was responsible for the slayings of more than six people in a street culture one U.S. prosecutor described as "absolute, unrelenting violence." Among the killings attributed to the group was the execution of one man to prevent him from testifying in state court about an earlier double homicide.


"It was survival of the fittest; it was domination by intimidation and fear," Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea L. Smith told a jury in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Defense attorneys said federal drug conspiracy charges do not fit what they described as a trio of crack cocaine "free-lancers," who worked for no one and were affiliated only by their ties to the Lexington Terrace complex. The high-rises, which stood on the western edge of downtown and were notorious for filth and violence, were demolished in July 1996.


"Any connection between them was not unlawful - it was based only on age and the accident of birth to the Lexington Terraces," defense attorney William B. Purpura said during yesterday's opening statements in a trial that is expected to last up to three months.

Purpura is the court-appointed attorney for Aaron Demarco Foster, 24, who was known on the street by the nicknames "Turk" or "Ace." Foster is charged in the case along with Michael L. Taylor, also known as "Mumbles," and co-defendant Keon D. Moses, also known as "Black."

Moses, 21, and Taylor, 20, face a possible death sentence for their alleged roles in a triple shooting Sept. 23, 2001, that left two men dead in a rowhouse basement in West Baltimore and a third man wounded and in the subsequent shooting death Feb. 22, 2002, of a potential witness to that crime, Robert "Snoop" McManus.

Moses was acquitted in April 2002 in Baltimore City Circuit Court on state murder charges in the deaths of 23-year-old Ronald Harris and 30-year-old Gregory Spain. Another man, Charles Brockington Jr., 22, was repeatedly shot and left for dead in the same incident, but survived.

In court yesterday, Moses' attorney told jurors that he would not contest many of the facts of that triple shooting in this trial. But he said jurors could not convict his client because in federal court he now faces a charge of using a firearm to commit murder in furtherance of the drug conspiracy - something defense attorneys claim never existed.

"He was never part of the conspiracy charged in this indictment ... [and] without the conspiracy, he cannot be found guilty of any of the other charges," attorney Arcangelo M. Tuminelli said. He added later: "Now, that might not be very palatable. ... Does it mean that he walks? Well, that's up to the state of Maryland - that's not for your consideration."

The federal case against the Lexington Terrace Boys, brought in September 2002, marked another instance in recent years where U.S. authorities have stepped in to prosecute some of the city's worst violent crimes after state court prosecutions failed.

Two months before announcing the indictment in the Lexington Terrace case, U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio had gained a conviction on gun and drug charges against Eric D. Stennett, a young Baltimore man who had been acquitted earlier in state court of killing a city police officer and was arrested again after a random street-corner bust.


The Lexington Terrace case is the first federal death penalty trial in Baltimore since 1998, when a jury rejected a death sentence for convicted drug lord Anthony Jones.

Baltimore city and county police, working with FBI agents, built a case against the alleged ringleaders in the Lexington case that reached well beyond the double murder that Moses was acquitted of in the city courts. Foster, who does not face the death penalty, is charged in the case with carjacking two teen-agers from Glen Burnie who tried to buy drugs one night at the illegal open-air markets near where the Lexington Terrace complex once stood.

Together, Foster and Taylor also are charged with attempting in early 2002 to intimidate another potential witness in the September 2001 double slaying. That man, Samuel Carlos Wilder, was killed last June in a hail of bullets in a narrow alley behind the 1500 block of Saratoga St., near many of the violent episodes attached to the Lexington Terrace case.

Wilder's killing has not been solved - nor has it been linked to his role in the federal gang case, where he had been considered a critical, if reluctant, witness.