Describing violence, Court of Appeals takes literary approach in striking down conviction

The news, after all the shootings and courtroom drama is sorted out, is that Clayton "Coco" Colkley has to be tried again for murder but remains convicted of a handgun charge. And Darnell "Pooh" Fields has to be re-sentenced for his conviction and life plus 45 year year term on conspiracy to commit murder.

It's a complicated case stemming from a gang war in 2003 in East Baltimore that left three people dead and four others wounded. The judges ruled that trial errors led to the overturning of the conviction and sentencing.


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. It's the second time these suspects have come before the Court of Appeals, which threw out there convictions in 2007 because of an improper juror note. Now, after having been convicted again, the alleged shooters have won a second round.

The ruling, by J. Moylan, notes the complexities of the case, but also sums up violence in Baltimore in a most literary way:

"The Back Story

The May 28, 2003 crimes constituted a single skirmish in an ongoing turf war between two rival drug-selling organizations in Baltimore City. In the larger picture, which inevitably intrudes itself into the narrative of May 28, 2003, there are so many murderers, accomplices of murderers, hirers of murderers, murder victims, and intended murder victims, all of whom have both legal names and wildly unrelated street names, that it is impossible to follow the game without a well-annotated scorecard.

If we appreciate from the opening scene that the appellant Clayton Colkley was a contract killer, the whole story will be a lot easier to follow. The accessory-before-the-fact who hired Colkley as a hit man was Eric Horsey. Horsey was the head of a major drug distributing operation in East Baltimore. The apparently smaller but rival drug organization was run by the brothers William and David Courts.Their operation distributed drugs from a geographic base centered on the intersection of Lafayette Avenue and Port Street, also in East Baltimore. It was the William and David Courts group that was the target of the May 28, 2003 shooting spree in the 1700 block of Port Street.

Bad blood between Horsey and the Courts brothers had been brewing for at least five months. In January of 2003, David Courts had shot two of Horsey's close associates in front of a Teamsters' Hall. Killed was a man known as "Tool," who was Horsey's best friend.

Wounded was a man known as "Gigit," who was Horsey's brother. For the next month or so, Horsey went on a revenge-inspired shooting spree, by his own admission shooting "quite a few individuals" in the area of Port Street and Lafayette Avenues. Jermaine "Polish" Lee, a member of the Courts brothers' group, was shot, along with several other members of the group, while "standing around Lafayette and Port."

It was in March of 2003 that Colkley first peddled his services to Horsey as a hired gun who, for a price, offered to eliminate both William Courts and David Courts. The deal with Horsey was then on and off for several months. It was Colkley who led the executionstyle raid of May 28, 2003. Horsey refused to pay him, however, when it came to light that one of the two desired targets, William Courts, had survived even after receiving ten bullets at point-blank range. When Colkley and Brian "Bee" Smith were successful in killing David Courts on the very next day, however, Horsey readily paid them $10,000 for the job.

This background is the context for a full understanding of what happened on May 28, 2003 -- Armageddon

Instead of the Earps versus the Clantons, May 28, 2003 was scripted to be the

showdown between Horsey and the Courts brothers, although neither Eric Horsey nor David Courts literally showed up at the corral that day. A key witness to the events of that day was Jermaine Lee. Lee was a part of the Courts brothers' organization. He was sitting on the steps of a house in the middle of the 1700 block of Port Street with William Courts and James Bowen when a car pulled quickly around the corner and stopped in front of them.

The sound of the car startled the three men, who were "on point" (on their guard) as a result of the series of shootings that had been going on since January. They let down their guard immediately, however, when Bowens recognized the driver of the car as the appellant Darnell "Pooh" Fields, saying, "Nah. That car's cool. That's Pooh's car." Lee testified that he also knew Fields from prior drug deals and had no reason to fear him. He described the car as a "cream colored" older model car, possibly a Grand Marquis, with tinted windows.

After signaling to the others that there was no danger, Bowens approached the passenger side of the car "with his hand on his dip." At that moment, however, the passenger door swung open, the appellant Colkley dove out in "a falling motion," and Colkley shot Bowens in the chest from a distance of about the length of a car door. Despite being shot, Bowens ran in the direction of Lafayette Avenue. Lee ran as well. As he did so, he noticed that the other occupants of the car had also opened their respective car doors and were firing guns.

Lee fled through an alley to a friend's house, from which he called an ambulance to the scene. He then ran to Lafayette Avenue where Bowens was lying on the ground, bleeding. Lee then returned to Port Street, where he found William Courts also lying on the ground, badly wounded. Lee left the scene without waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Later that evening, Lee did go out with David Courts in an unsuccessful retaliatory effort to find Colkley and Fields. Two days later, Lee learned that David Courts had been shot and killed. After his arrest on July 2, 2003, Lee, through a series of photo arrays, identified both Colkley and Fields to the police as two of the May 28 shooters.'