Baltimore police have held up 16-year-old Marcus McDowell's death as a true tragedy. McDowell, who earned his high school diploma early and had no criminal record, was an innocent victim in a city where an unrelenting drug epidemic spawns petty disputes that often end in murder.
While prosecutors say McDowell wasn't involved in the drug trade, his Northeast Baltimore neighborhood was immersed in it. And it was this environment -- a neighbor's addiction and a friend's dealing -- that felled him, prosecutors said yesterday as the man accused of killing McDowell, Rasul Malik Brown, went on trial.
Brown, 23, is accused of fatally shooting McDowell in the 5100 block of Harford Road on Jan. 8, 2007. According to prosecutors, Brown was trying to rob McDowell's friend, Edward W. McCargo, 21, and Donovan Edwards, 27, as they tried to sell Brown and two of his friends marijuana.
Brown's defense attorney, Randolph O. Gregory, said that McCargo sparked the fight by trying to sell a $5 bag of marijuana for $10. And that's when McDowell came running down the street to intervene, attacking Brown from the back, he says. Brown fired at him in "self-defense."
"He runs up from behind him, puts him in a full nelson and chokes him," Gregory said. That's when Brown "fires the gun."
Assistant State's Attorney Lisa Phelps told the jury yesterday that the events leading to McDowell's death start out like a "here we go again" tale from Baltimore's violent drug scene, but that the tragic ending of the story was far from it.
"The person who was killed was 16-year-old Marcus McDowell, who was not selling or buying, just sitting on a step farther down the block," Phelps said in her opening statement. "Brown pulled out a gun not to pay for the pot, but because he wanted everything [they had]." McDowell, Phelps said, "intervened with the only thing he had, which was his hands. The defendant shoots Marcus once, twice, three times."
Both sides agree that Edwards' search for a high initiated the deadly series of events that evening. After trying a few places, Edwards called upstairs at a house on Harford Road where he knew a dealer. McCargo and McDowell came out. Edwards, who was broke, wanted to purchase the marijuana on credit, but McCargo refused because he had such a small amount -- two $5 bags.
As Edwards walked away empty-handed, he encountered three men, including Brown, who asked where they could find drugs. That gave Edwards an idea -- a way to get his fix at no charge.
While Brown and his two friends walked to a nearby gas station to get change, Edwards convinced McCargo to sell the $5 bag for $10 to Brown and give him the extra $5 bag for free as a payment for bringing in business. Seeing Brown and his friends returning from the gas station, Edwards and McCargo walked down the street to meet them, while McDowell stayed behind on the porch.
According to testimony from Edwards and McCargo, they never had a chance to show Brown the $5 bag of marijuana. Instead, when Brown reached in his front pocket for money, he pulled out a gun and hit Edwards on the back of the head with it.
Edwards took off running up the street, as McCargo and Brown began wrestling over the gun. As Edwards fled, he passed McDowell on the porch and warned him "not to go down there" because the buyer had pulled out a gun. McDowell ignored the warning and ran to help his friend.
McCargo testified yesterday that he had escaped the fight but that he watched Brown shoot McDowell multiple times in the upper body.