File footage on the arrest of Montana Barronette who was dubbed the city's 'No. 1 trigger puller' by police. Back on August 2016, former Police Commissioner Kevin Davis talked about the arrest of Barronette. (Kevin Richardson)
In a verdict celebrated by the city’s interim police commissioner and the U.S. attorney for Maryland, a federal jury convicted eight men Wednesday of racketeering crimes as part of a murderous West Baltimore heroin crew known as “Trained To Go.”
The jury found members of the gang murdered nine people, threatened witnesses and dealt large quantities of heroin — at least 1,000 grams — around the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood.
Jurors deliberated one week before finding all eight men guilty. The convictions represent the latest victory for prosecutors who have been turning to the federal racketeering act to lock up Baltimore’s street gangs.
“We are not letting up,” pledged Robert Hur, the U.S. attorney for Maryland. “These defendants were responsible for a staggering amount of violence.”
Interim Baltimore Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle arrived after the verdicts and thanked prosecutors.
“It’s a great day for the city,” Tuggle said. “I hope it sends a message to would-be gangsters out there that they cannot murder with impunity.”
The eight men all face life in federal prison. They have not been scheduled for sentencing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Their defense attorneys have declined to comment.
A ninth man, Roger Taylor, was charged in the case, but he remains on the run. The FBI continues to search for Taylor.
Federal prosecutors told jurors the “Trained To Go” crew — meaning “trained to kill” — was led by brothers Montana Barronette, 23, and Terrell Sivells, 27. Police had publicly named Barronette the city’s “No. 1 trigger puller.”
Jurors found Barronette guilty of participating in seven murders, including an ambush in July 2015 that left three people dead. He showed no reaction as his guilty verdicts were read.
The jury, however, failed to reach a consensus over the November 2015 killing of David Moore and May 2010 killing of Jamie Hilton-Bey. Barronette had been accused of killing Moore; Sivells, of killing Hilton-Bey.
During the five-week trial, prosecutors and witnesses described how Barronette and Sivells climbed from street-level drug dealers to lead a powerful crew that sold heroin and served as guns for hire. The brothers and their six co-defendants were convicted on an array of evidence: phone call recordings, packages of heroin and marijuana, surveillance photos and videos of undercover drug buys. Jurors saw the defendants’ Instagram pages, where the men posted photos of themselves with stacks of cash and guns. “Run the city,” one wrote, “#snipergang.”
But prosecutors anchored the case on testimony from a parade of admitted drug dealers, gangsters and killers.
More than 30 people testified as government witnesses, many in hopes of leniency for their own crimes or cash payments — sometimes more than $15,000 — to move away from Baltimore and into witness protection. Their testimony brought forth startling revelations about the Baltimore underworld.
A ranking member of the Black Guerilla Family street gang testified to recruiting neighborhood boys as young as 13 to work heroin shops in West and South Baltimore. A drug dealer named Guy Coffey had been working as an undercover informant and tipping off police to crimes by the eight defendants. He was gunned down after his name was leaked onto the streets.
In a city ruled by a code of “no snitching,” there have been murmurs, even gasps, from the gallery at the appearance of neighborhood men who testified as government witnesses.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Gardner accused the defendants of packing the courtroom to intimidate witnesses. One person in the gallery, Gardner said, lifted up their shirt to show off their tattoos — an act of intimidation.
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Inside the courtroom, tensions have escalated. One day, two women began fighting in the gallery. Midway through the trial, U.S. marshals began searching the shoes of all spectators. Officials declined to say what caused them to stiffen security measures. They restricted spectators to only two rows of seats in the gallery. One defense attorney called for a mistrial. Defendant John “Binkie” Harrison, 28, remained in handcuffs during courtroom proceedings — a break from protocol.
The others convicted of racketeering are Taurus Tillman, 29, Linton Broughton, 25, Dennis Pulley, 31, Brandon Wilson, 24, and Timothy Floyd, 28.
Wednesday morning, a police dog swept through the courtroom before the jurors returned with their verdict. The other defendants showed little reaction to the guilty findings.