Recruited to sell drugs at age 13, Montana Barronette headed a well-known violent gang in West Baltimore by 21 and was dubbed by police as the city’s “No.1 trigger puller.”
On Friday, just shy of his 24th birthday, the former leader of the “Trained to Go” gang was sentenced to life in prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Romano described Barronette as a “killer without a conscience” who smiled as jurors convicted him last year. Barronette’s attorney, Michael Lawlor, argued for a 60-year sentence, saying his client was destined to fail given the desperate circumstances he faced as a child growing up in a violent city with little support.
U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake said she appreciated Barronette’s plea for leniency, but that she could not overlook the families of the victims whose lives were lost.
“There were senseless murders,” she said. “We have to show this violence has to be taken seriously.”
Barronette, who wore a dark jumpsuit, showed little emotion when the sentence was handed down.
“I just want to apologize,” he told the judge, “for the heartache and pain they believe I caused.”
Law enforcement officials and lawyers from the U.S. Attorney’s office and U.S. Justice Department packed into the courtroom alongside several members of Barronette’s family, and the family of at least one of his victims.
Vallencia Bullock, the mother of Antonio “Tony” Addison, attended the hearing, wearing a black T-shirt that read “Forever Tony.”
She told the judge about the day her 22-year-old son was shot at his grandmother’s home on North Carey Street on May 25, 2016. She recalled how a woman informed her of the shooting, how she ran down the street to find broken glass, and rushed to the hospital where she spent the night. She told the judge how a doctor said her son’s heart stopped. She spoke of how she visits his grave each week, no matter the weather, to brush any debris off his gravestone.
“It’s hard going there, but it’s most hard to leave,” she said.
Barronette’s sister, Dikeshia King, 33, also spoke, apologizing to the families “who were hurt in this process.” But she defended the brother whom she said she raised, because they did not have parents to care for them.
“We all we got… All we ever knew,” she said.
Jurors deliberated for one week in October before convicting Barronette and seven other Trained to Go members of drug and racketeering conspiracy charges. All face sentences of up to life in prison.
Prosecutors said the gang was responsible for nine murders, threatened witnesses and sold at least 1,000 grams of heroin around the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood. Barronette was responsible for six murders, prosecutors said.
“To have one person responsible for that much death, that much destruction in this city, I’m just very glad that justice was done and he has been removed from the community,” said U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur, who attended the hearing.
The investigation was the result of a joint task force of local and federal investigators with the Baltimore Police Department and the FBI.
“This is what it looks like when we work collaboratively together,” acting Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said after the hearing. “Going forward this is how it will continue to look like. To the residents of Baltimore, this relationship is strong and I am happy and pleased to join my federal partners in this fight to make sure Baltimore is a safe city.”
Harrison’s first day on the job as the city’s top cop was Monday. He’s been meeting with residents and others this week but said he felt he needed to attend the sentencing.
“It was important for me to see this outcome firsthand, so I know just what’s at stake and I know how to make sure my police department performs at a high level and partners with our partners going forward,” he said.
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During a five-week-long trial, federal prosecutors laid out how Barronette and his brother, Terrell Sivells, 27, led the group that made as much as $10,000 a day selling heroin and served as guns for hire.
The prosecutors’ case included more than 30 witnesses, phone call recordings, packages of heroin and marijuana, surveillance photos and videos of undercover drug buys.
In a city often plagued by the “stop snitching” culture, prosecutors said during the trial that the families of witnesses had been threatened. The U.S. Marshals Service took additional security precautions, such as searching the shoes of all spectators.
Three of the defendants were later indicted on charges of assaulting U.S. marshals while they were being transported to and from the courtroom during their trial.
The other defendants awaiting sentencing are John Harrison, 28; Taurus Tillman, 29, Linton Broughton, 25, Dennis Pulley, 31, Brandon Wilson, 24, and Timothy Floyd, 29.
A ninth defendant, Roger Taylor, remains a fugitive sought by the FBI.
Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Prudente contributed to this article.