A Baltimore man who said his brother would be "beating on" the main witness as a way to silence him was convicted yesterday of first-degree murder and then sentenced to life plus 40 years in prison.
The witness did come to court to testify, but he changed his story on the witness stand. The prosecutor played for the jury the original statement the witness gave police - plus a jailhouse phone call between the defendant and his brother to show why the man might have recanted.
The call was one of several examples of witness intimidation in the murder trial of 22-year-old Terry Nelson, said Assistant State's Attorney John Cox.
Nelson was accused of fatally shooting a fellow drug dealer, 17-year-old Jimmy Sabb, after prosecutors said Sabb apparently short-changed Nelson on drug money.
Sabb was shot seven times Jan. 13, 2006, in front of a house in the 3100 block of Woodland Ave. Witnesses identified Nelson as having argued with Sabb right before the shooting, and one man told police he saw Nelson shoot Sabb.
Police also arrested Jamal "Buster" Keats in connection with the shooting, saying he was the one who retrieved the gun for Nelson.
In August 2006, Nelson - held without bail at the city detention center - spoke by telephone with his brother. Nelson said that if the eyewitness did not show up to court, he would be able to escape conviction. He told the brother that another brother would be "beating on that [expletive]," according to Cox.
In another phone call that day, to his mother, Nelson asked if she would pay off the witness, Cox said.
His brother asked him if he had committed the murder, and Nelson laughed and said he couldn't talk about that over the phone, Cox said.
Prosecutors caught another break in October, when someone called in a tip that a man had been arrested with the gun used in the Sabb murder.
The tip proved accurate: The person who had been arrested with the murder weapon was an acquaintance of Nelson's brother.
Jurors heard closing arguments yesterday morning and made their decision in less than 45 minutes. They convicted Nelson of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and use of a handgun in a crime of violence.
An irate Nelson then asked Baltimore Circuit Judge John C. Themelis to sentence him right away. Afterward, Cox dropped charges against Keats, saying there was not enough evidence to proceed with the case.