A Waverly gang member was sentenced to 25 years in prison for opening fire on a carload of rivals and mistakenly hitting 3-year-old McKenzie Elliot
A case that began in 2014 when a North Baltimore gang member opened fire on rivals — but struck and killed 3-year-old McKenzie Elliott as she played on her porch — came to an emotional end Wednesday.
Two families changed by a single act of violence expressed anguish and grief in U.S. District Court just before Judge George L. Russell III sentenced Terrell Plummer to 25 years in federal prison as a member of the violent Old York Money Gang that operated in the Waverly neighborhood.
Now, five years later, when McKenzie should have been an 8-year-old returning to school next week, her mother, Nina Epps, wept inside Russell’s courtroom, telling the judge how the little girl “was my first accomplishment.” She spoke of how she wanted her young daughter to have a happy childhood and experiences she never had.
“Now that she’s gone, now what?”
She paused several times, fighting back gasps and tears while being embraced by her sister, Nafeesa Harrison. Harrison told the judge her sister will never experience important mother-daughter milestones — the first day of school, walking across the stage at graduation or shopping for her wedding dress.
“It takes a lot of courage to do what you are doing here,” Russell told Epps, imploring her not to let grief overcome her. “McKenzie would not want her mom suffering. You’ve got to live your life."
Epps also told the judge she was concerned for her safety.
The child’s killing took years to solve. Federal prosecutors have said the gang responsible terrorized the Waverly neighborhood and frightened witnesses from coming forward. It wasn’t until April 2017 that a federal grand jury indicted seven men in the Old York Money Gang, including the killer.
As part of his plea, Plummer also admitted dealing heroin, cocaine and marijuana for the Old York Money Gang between 2013 and 2017. In July 2014, the gang went to war with a crew of men from another neighborhood. One person was stabbed during a fight on July 30, 2014.
Two days later, the rival crew returned to Waverly and drove through the neighborhood in a white 1999 Mercedes SUV. Plummer opened fire on their car.
“The defendant did so in relation to protecting and defending the OYMG neighborhood from the adversaries’ incursion,” federal prosecutors wrote in the plea agreement.
One errant bullet grazed the chin and wrist of a bystander. Another fatally struck McKenzie on her porch in the 3600 block of Old York Road.
“The Defendant did not mean to kill McKenzie Elliott,” prosecutors wrote. “However, the Defendant was responsible for her death insofar as he was trying to shoot the individuals in the white SUV.”
Plummer is the final gang member to be sentenced. The gang leader, Trevon Beasley, was sentenced to life in prison on federal racketeering charges in March.
Though Plummer admitted to firing the errant shots in his plea agreement, at Wednesday’s hearing, however, he denied pulling the trigger.
“I want you to know I had nothing to do with the death of your child,” he said, turning to face Epps. Plummer said he chose not to read a statement he had written with his attorneys.
“I felt like I wouldn’t be given a fair chance,” he said, saying the charges against him could have led to a longer sentence if he had been found guilty.
As Plummer spoke, a relative of his shouted out in the courtroom, “Keep your head up.”
But the judge said he was not swayed by Plummer’s comments, which he called “selfish and cowardice."
Russell said as a result of Plummer’s actions, McKenzie’s family will never be whole again, but also his own family will suffer irreparable damage.
Plummer’s mother, Tongela Russoe, also spoke at the hearing, telling the judge how she was pregnant at 16 but managed to graduate on time, go on to college and even earn a master’s degree.
“He didn’t come from nothing,” she said, also fighting back tears.
When Plummer was 2, she said, his father was killed. Now his three children will grow up without their father, just as he did. She told the judge that her son was not a bad person, but, “He made mistakes that day.” She then turned toward her son and told him she loved him as he turned in his chair and said he loved her too.
Russoe also spoke directly to Epps, telling her, “From the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry. You don’t have to be afraid of us. We love you,” she said.
Plummer’s attorney, James Wyda, the federal public defender for Maryland, told the court that the 25-year sentence was fair, as it reflects the serious nature of the shooting, but also that his client never intended to cause the harm that he did.
Wyda and the federal prosecutor handling the case, Michael Hanlon, spoke of McKenzie’s death as an example of the city’s struggles with violence.
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The violence of that day is a symptom of the city’s larger issues, such as poverty and segregation, Wyda said. Hanlon said he hoped the resolution of the case would bring some sense of justice and act as a a general deterrent to others who think of picking up a gun.
Across Baltimore 5,000 people have been killed or injured in shootings since McKenzie’s death.
With those numbers, Hanlon said, “It’s hard to keep those names straight. But we hope the name McKenzie Elliott is remembered.”
Plummer’s sentencing comes two weeks after Keon Gray, 30, was convicted of second-degree murder for firing the errant shot that killed 7-year-old Taylor Hayes last summer. A jury found Gray guilty of mistakenly hitting Taylor during a shootout in the streets of West Baltimore.
Epps spoke briefly to reporters after the hearing, saying she hoped her daughter’s death would dissuade others from committing acts of violence.
“I hope this will be a life learned lesson for everyone that we have to put the guns down because we’re losing our children," Epps said. “I hope that we all take this into consideration, pay attention and open our eyes up and give everybody else a chance to live their life like how we all should and make Baltimore at peace again.”