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Crime

Safe Streets leader Dante Barksdale was killed with ‘ghost gun,’ Baltimore firearms examiner testifies

Safe Streets leader Dante Barksdale was shot to death with an untraceable “ghost gun,” a Baltimore Police firearms examiner testified Wednesday during the trial of the man charged in his death.

Jennifer Ingbretson, a firearms examiner with the police department, told the jury Tuesday that the shell casings found around Barksdale’s body in the Douglas Homes housing complex, Jan. 17, 2021, were fired from by an untraceable gun built from pieces that can be purchased online.

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The pistol used to kill Barksdale previously was described as a 9mm made by the gun manufacturer Polymer80. That company sells a large piece of the gun — the lower part, including the grip — without serial numbers, allowing customers to buy parts and assemble their firearm, Ingbretson said.

Last June, Baltimore police said so-called “ghost guns” were being used in an increasing number of fatal and nonfatal shootings. Legislation banning the sale of the untraceable firearms starting June 1 and their possession next March passed the legislature this spring and became law without the signature of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

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In Barksdale’s case, investigators were able to link the gun to the man standing trial for his killing, Garrick Powell, by comparing the bullet fragments recovered at the scene of the fatal shooting in the 200 block of Douglas Court and a bullets test fired at the Anne Arundel County Police Department after a gun was recovered during a traffic stop Feb. 3, 2021.

Police officers confiscated the gun, which was loaded with one bullet in the chamber and 30 more rounds in an extended magazine, after finding it underneath the seat of a Mercedes SUV in which Powell was sitting when officers pulled the car over near the city-county line.

Edward Gesser, a firearms examiner for the Anne Arundel County Police Department, analyzed the gun in February 2021. He put his findings into the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network and sought any results the law enforcement database might spit out. The system searches through findings from spent cartridge casings recovered during other crimes and ranks the probability that they were fired by the same gun.

In this case, Gesser said, he got a lead: Baltimore City.

Baltimore homicide detectives reached out to Gesser in May 2021. They asked Ingbretson to do her own tests. The examiners fired test rounds into a water tank, Ingbretson bagged them up and brought them back to her lab in the city to analyze under a microscope. She said the test-fired bullets showed a distinctive pattern that matched the fragments recovered from Barksdale’s homicide.

“The firing pin impressions were all the same — they were elliptical,” she testified.

The results are one of the two critical pieces of circumstantial evidence Assistant State’s Attorney Jeffrey Maylor is employing to convince a jury that Powell is guilty of murder.

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An FBI special agent testified Powell’s cell phone was in the area of the shooting about an hour beforehand, and pinged off a tower in Northeast Baltimore afterward.

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Wide-angle security footage from the Douglas Homes housing complex was shown in court Wednesday morning. From a distance, the video showed three people enter a courtyard. Another angle showed only two people leave, running.

No witness identified Powell as one of the people in the video.

The state and defense rested before midday Wednesday. Powell elected not to testify in his defense. Circuit Judge Jennifer Schiffer explained the applicable law to the jury.

In closing arguments, Maylor and defense attorney John Cox largely doubled down on their opening remarks to the jury.

Maylor said the sum of the circumstantial evidence equaled enough proof to find Powell guilty of murder. Cox, however, said the evidence against his client was weak and “not even close” to sufficient for a guilty verdict.

The jury began deliberating around 4 p.m., and were dismissed for the day about an hour later.


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