In retaliation for a robbery of one of the city's most notorious drug dealers, Solothal "Itchy Man" Thomas and an accomplice fatally shot a Milford Mill man 15 times nearly five years ago in a murder-for-hire plot, federal prosecutors said in opening statements of a trial yesterday.
But an attorney for Thomas argued that the accomplice, Tyree Stewart, had schemed all along to blame his client if he ever faced serious charges. Stewart -- who has pleaded guilty to running a criminal enterprise and is to be sentenced at a later date -- is expected to testify against Thomas.
Thomas was once considered one of the most dangerous men in Baltimore.
He has been accused of two killings and 12 attempted killings, but had either won acquittals or pleaded guilty to lesser charges, and received relatively short sentences. He was profiled in the Sun's 2002 series "Justice Undone," which explored problems in the city's criminal system.
In court yesterday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Weinstein spent nearly a half-hour describing a scenario in which Stewart, through one of the lieutenants in a drug ring, hired Thomas to kill Jesse Williams, a reformed drug dealer who prosecutors say robbed Thomas years earlier.
"From time to time, [Stewart] used hit men, like these defendants, to deliver a message," Weinstein said.
Thomas, in turn, hired someone to assist him in the killing, Weinstein said. The two, along with another man, arrived at Williams' home about 7 a.m. Oct. 2, 2001, and shot the victim as he was going to work, Weinstein said. Prosecutors said a man shot Williams five times, then Thomas fired 10 shots at Williams to "finish him off," Weinstein said.
Those men, said Thomas' lawyer, Arcangelo M. Tuminelli, have reason to concoct a story after cutting deals with the government.
"They're getting a benefit," Tuminelli said. "They understand the writing is on the wall."
Tuminelli told jurors during his opening statement that Stewart has a remarkable ability to work the legal system to his benefit.
Federal prosecutors charged Stewart and 31 others in 2003 of operating a drug-trafficking organization responsible for distributing 20,000 pounds of marijuana in West Baltimore over five years.
In all, 28 defendants have pleaded guilty or have been convicted of charges including obstruction of justice, conspiracy to distribute drugs and running a criminal enterprise.
Two of the people charged were former employees of the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center.
Facing at least a life sentence, Tuminelli said, Stewart "handed over" Thomas.
Stewart and Corey Smith -- who also has pleaded guilty to being a part of the criminal enterprise -- collaborated on a story that would finger Thomas and others in the killings, Tuminelli said. "They knew Solothal Thomas was a prize," Tuminelli said.
Neither Thomas nor a co-defendant was in court yesterday. Both men were removed by U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake on Monday before jury selection for disrupting the court.
Thomas claims the federal court has no jurisdiction over his "flesh and blood." The trial is expected to last two to three weeks.