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‘All rats must go’: Baltimore prosecutors allege mother threatened witness in her son’s murder case

With her 14-year-old son locked up on murder charges, Sierra Rose Hammond met the boy’s attorney to review the evidence.

An older teen allegedly pulled the trigger, but he named Hammond’s son as his accomplice. When the defense attorney played video of the older boy talking to detectives, prosecutors say, Hammond secretly held a cellphone in her lap and recorded.

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She’s accused of posting the video to Instagram, and later telling her son and another man behind bars in a recorded jail call: “All rats must go.”

In a rare move, Baltimore prosecutors charged the 32-year-old mother with attempting to intimidate the key witness in the murder case against her son. She allegedly provided the witness’ name, description and date of birth to the other prisoner.

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That prisoner, Justin Jeffries, apparently had means to pass her message to those who could harm the witness behind bars.

“I’m gonna send the word over there tomorrow when I throw out the trash he a rat,” Jeffries told her on a recorded jail call, according to the charging documents; he told her he would get the witness hurt or “wore out.”

A Baltimore grand jury indicted Hammond on the charges Tuesday. She faces as many as 20 years in prison.

Her son, Ky’sean Hammond, is scheduled to stand trial for murder in April. His co-defendant, the older teen, is scheduled for trial in May.

The teens, 14 and 19, are charged with fatally shooting a man downtown last summer. Police identified their victim as 28-year-old Joseph Betts.

The teens killed Betts, who was homeless, after a fight over a $1 bill, said Tony Garcia, the attorney for Ky’sean Hammond. But Garcia said the older teen pulled the trigger.

Garcia said his client has a fourth grade education — “He’s got comprehension issues” — and he was following around the older boy who carried the gun. The attorney has questioned why prosecutors would charge Ky’sean as an adult with first-degree murder. He faces life in prison.

Further, the 19-year-old was telling other men behind bars that Ky’sean was snitching, Garcia said. He said all this pushed Ky’sean’s mother to panic when he played the police interview for her on a laptop.

“She was told not to record anything. She wanted her own copy, and I told her ‘no,’” Garcia said. “Nobody knew she was recording ... I don’t condone it. I don’t approve of it. I would never ever allow that to happen.”

Garcia said Sierra Rose Hammond’s actions, however misguided, were intended to protect her son behind bars.

“She can’t go in and rescue him. She can’t go inside and comfort him. Instead, she took this crazy action,” he said. “I’m not trying to say it’s legal. I’m not trying to say it’s right. I’m saying that’s what she was doing; she was trying to protect her child.”

She allegedly posted her surreptitious recording to her son’s Instagram page in January, according to prosecutors. Garcia said prosecutors called him about the post, and he immediately called Hammond. She took down the video, he said, telling him someone else, a child who came with her to the law firm, actually recorded the police interview.

Police and prosecutors have been hobbled by Baltimore’s culture of “stop snitching” as they try and stem a rash of gun violence in recent years. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has called the city the home of “stop snitching.” A DVD circulated on the streets more than a decade ago warning people not to help police. Today, social media pages on sites such as Instagram carry threats, identify suspected police cooperators — often mistakenly — and even demand payment.

Last session of the Maryland General Assembly, Mosby lobbied state lawmakers to allow her to use hearsay evidence at trial for cases of witness intimidation. She has said that more than one-third of criminal cases her office drops are dismissed because of uncooperative witnesses or victims.

Mosby has launched a public relations campaign to reassure witnesses, airing commercials on radio and TV. Billboards carried her message around the city.

“Community participation is pivotal for securing convictions of dangerous individuals, which is why we must safeguard victims and witnesses of crime to make it easy to come forward without fear of retaliation,” Mosby said in a statement Wednesday. “We will hold violators accountable and I am committed to ending the ‘stop snitching’ mentality which enables witness intimidation to permeate our city.”

Online court records do not list Hammond’s attorney. She was arrested last month and remains held without bail.

In a recorded call from jail, Ky’sean Hammond tells an unidentified person, “Hey bro my mother got the video of Ty telling.”

She’s on the call, too.

“I only recorded seven minutes of it,” said Sierra Rose Hammond, according to charging documents. “I had to keep the phone in my lap.”

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