When his attackers arrived, letting themselves in the front door of his grandmother's West Baltimore rowhouse, Charles Brockington was dozing in a basement bedroom. The footsteps pounding on the stairs, he assumed, meant his buddies had arrived to play video games, smoke marijuana and sell drugs, just as they did most days.
Instead, Brockington told a federal jury yesterday, he rolled over to discover three armed, masked men standing by his bed, ordering him to turn over any cash and drugs he had stashed in the house.
What followed at 303 N. Calhoun St. on Sept. 23, 2001, has become the grim centerpiece of a rare federal death penalty trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. By the end of the day, two of Brockington friends -- who arrived at the rowhouse shortly after the masked men -- had been executed. Brockington was shot eight times and left for dead.
Federal authorities have said that a key witness was killed five months later to prevent him from testifying in a double murder trial in April 2002. In that trial, the one man that Brockington told police he could identify from the attack, Keon D. Moses, was acquitted.
Moses, 21, is charged in federal court with participating in a violent drug conspiracy responsible for a string of shootings and homicides. He is on trial along with Michael L. Taylor, 20, and Aaron D. Foster, 24, all members, authorities said, of a loose-knit crack cocaine organization known as the Lexington Terrace Boys.
Authorities allege that Moses and Taylor were two of the masked men in Brockington's basement room that September day, along with another man, Marcus Baskerville, who is charged separately in federal court and will stand trial later. Moses and Taylor could receive death sentences if convicted.
In his testimony yesterday, Brockington, 23, told jurors that he had known Moses casually from the West Baltimore drug trade and that he recognized him the day of the attack when he tore off his bandana mask in a moment of frustration.
Brockington testified that in the basement of the Calhoun Street rowhouse, Moses was demanding drugs and cash -- Brockington said he had neither because of a raid nine days earlier by Baltimore police -- when the robbery attempt was interrupted by the arrival of Brockington's longtime friends, Gregory Spain, 30, and Ronald Harris, 23.
Spain suggested to the masked men that he might have some drugs stashed at a girlfriend's nearby apartment. Moses took Brockington with him to look, but the two returned empty-handed. When they arrived back at Brockington's home, he said he heard a gunshot from the basement and then watched as Moses fired a Tech-9 semi-automatic, killing Spain in the basement laundry room.
Brockington testified that one of the other masked men then turned to him and started shooting. Hit in the neck and chest, Brockington said he dropped to the floor and listened as he heard more semiautomatic gunfire -- the rounds that killed Harris.
When one of the masked gunmen realized that Brockington was alive, he fired a single shot into Brockington's chest before fleeing from the house.
"I thought I was going to die, but I woke back up and got up," Brockington said in court.
He described staggering outside the house and encountering his father and two close friends from the neighborhood, Robert "Snoop" McManus and Samuel "Los" Wilder. Brockington testified that he told them he had been shot, and he told them Moses was among the assailants.
Five months later, McManus was fatally shot as he crossed Mount Street -- a victim, prosecutors say, of witness retaliation in a case that is replete with intimidation of witnesses and potential snitches. In the federal trial, which is expected to last up to three months, authorities have taken extensive measures to protect witnesses.
At the end of the court day Monday, authorities detained and charged Donald Ray Thompson Jr., an observer in the courtroom gallery, after a deputy U.S. marshal noticed him pointing his fingers in the shape of a gun at the day's government witness, Tavon M. Brown.
Brockington acknowledged yesterday that he had been moved by the government to a location outside Baltimore, where he had completed a job training program and learned to paint while he waited to be called as a witness.
His testimony was expected to continue this morning.