A top California Bloods member who was sent to the city to "straighten out" Baltimore's chaotic gang network and sell heroin was found guilty yesterday of second-degree murder and conspiracy to kill a 19-year-old who was not following gang rules.
Police believe the victim, Terrance Randolph, had mishandled money in a drug deal and gotten into a fight on North Avenue in violation of orders from gang leaders. Such offenses, in gangland culture, merit "DP," or discipline, and 35-year-old Shaidon Blake - also known as Don Papa - oversaw the punishment, prosecutors said.
Randolph was led to a West Baltimore basement where gang members bound his mouth and arms with duct tape, slashed his face with a box cutter, hit him with a sledgehammer, and finally killed him when they stabbed him in the neck with a samurai sword, according to prosecutors and trial testimony.
Then they dragged his body to an alley behind the Division Street house and lit it on fire, creating what a prosecutor described as one of the goriest killings he had ever seen. Two other gang members on trial for their roles in the slaying were also found guilty yesterday.
The police investigation of the case took detectives to California, where they searched Blake's mother's house, and Las Vegas, where they questioned him after U.S. marshals arrested him in May 2006. "Don Papa had control over people in this town, a lot of people knew who he was and a lot of people were afraid of him," said Anthony Fata, the lead city homicide detective on the case. "He didn't get to do what he came out here to do."
Jermile Harvey, who lived in the house where the murder occurred, and Janet Lee Johnson were both found guilty of first- and second-degree murder. Johnson also pleaded guilty yesterday to bringing a loaded gun into a holding cell in the city's homicide department after being arrested for a separate murder. She concealed the handgun in her panties.
Much of the five-day trial focused on Blake. He wore a button-down gray shirt and scribbled notes on a legal pad during the proceedings, often consulting with his lawyer. When the guilty verdict was read, he shook his head angrily and said "[expletive] him, [expletive] him." He mouthed "goodbye" to a girlfriend who was in court. Family members declined to comment afterward.
Dennis Laye, Blake's court-appointed lawyer, said in his closing argument that Blake's gang background should not be enough to convict him of the crime. It took the jury three days to return the guilty verdicts.
Blake reached out to the Baltimore police shortly after arriving in the city in late 2005 and told them that he was from California and had plans to straighten out the city's gangs, according to testimony.
"He was sent here because people were 'false flagging,' not representing Bloods the way they are supposed to be," said Detective Darrell A. Merrick, a member of the department's gang unit, who attended that meeting.
Blake told Merrick that he didn't want a rift between him and the law. He said he was organizing a meeting of the city's Bloods in Druid Hill Park and wanted some help getting a permit for the gathering.
Merrick said it rained on the day the big meeting was supposed to take place and that nobody gathered at the park. "A lot of the time Bloods say they are for uplifting the community," Merrick said. "They say they are not for violence or things of that nature."
The torture Randolph endured told a different story, police said. When the jury was selected, Chief Circuit Judge John N. Prevas said jurors who thought they would be too upset by bloody photos could be excused.
Despite the gruesome way in which Randolph was killed, detectives found only two droplets of the victim's blood on a washing machine in the basement - and a lot of bleach.
"They did a good job cleaning up," said Brian M. Fish, assistant state's attorney.
Instead of forensics, the key evidence in the trial was introduced by witnesses.
The first witness, Jiordanna Wagner, initially refused to cooperate. On the first day of the trial, she was charged with contempt of court, an offense Prevas told her could carry a 10-year sentence. She spent a night in jail and then agreed to take the witness stand.
Wagner testified with her lawyer sitting next to her because she is charged with other crimes. She insisted that she did not remember what happened on the night of the murder and refused to identify Don Papa as Shaidon Blake. Fish, the prosecutor, played an audio tape that homicide detectives made when they questioned her.
Jurors read transcripts of the tape as it played, and one juror covered her mouth with her hand as Wagner described how the victim was tortured. Wagner appeared bored on the stand, yawning a few times and looking down as her voice played on a portable stereo. As they deliberated, the jurors wore out one audio tape, and requested another copy of it.
The other witness, Raymond Kelly, owned the home on the 1900 block of Division St. where the murder occurred. The gang members came to his house on April 11, 2006, drinking and smoking marijuana with him. But he said he went to bed around 10:30 p.m. and was roused at 3 a.m. by someone named "Bangout" who police never found.
"They had a guy taped up in the basement," Kelly testified. "I didn't recognize him. He was taped across the chest. As soon as I saw it, I wanted it out."
Kelly said during cross-examination that he assumed the victim "was just getting disciplined."
"That is what they do," Kelly said. "I'm not ignorant about gang routine. I just assumed he was getting DPed."
Toward the end of the trial, an assistant medical examiner showed the jury graphic photos of Randolph's body. "It was burnt to a bloody crisp," said Fish, the prosecutor, in his closing arguments.
The defense called no witnesses, but tried to convince the jury that the state's witnesses were either coerced into talking or guilty of the crime.
This week, Blake was also indicted in Las Vegas for federal handgun charges that stemmed from his arrest in May, when he was found with a gun.