The May 2016 killing of Latrina Ashburne was inexplicable: The 41-year-old teacher’s aide had been gunned down at 7:15 a.m. while leaving the home she shared with her mother in North Baltimore. The gunman approached on foot. He took nothing.
As city police were assessing the crime scene, Ashburne’s next-door neighbor placed a phone call to a federal agent that eventually would lead to suspects: “I think that man was there for me,” she said.
A federal jury trial began Tuesday morning, with federal prosecutors laying out evidence they say shows that Ashburne was killed by mistake. They allege that defendants Davon Carter and Clifton Mosley had intended to kill her neighbor, who was a whistleblower in an ongoing Medicaid fraud case at the time.
Carter is accused of pulling the trigger. His attorney, Gerald T. Zerkin, told jurors that the evidence was not as “clear or clean” as prosecutors asserted, while Harry Trainor, an attorney for Mosley, indicated that his client could have been an unwitting participant.
“He could’ve been used, but he didn’t knowingly try to kill anybody,” Trainor said.
The case revolves around the whistleblower and a man named Matthew Hightower, who isn’t charged in the case.
Hightower was charged in 2015 with being part of a scam to overcharge Medicaid for adult diapers. Hightower worked for a company called RX Resources and Solutions that received more than a million dollars over a six-year period by charging for supplies not provided.
While awaiting trial, Hightower was provided information for his defense and learned the name of a witness, prosecutors say. It was someone he knew, and who had confronted Hightower previously to express her disapproval about the fraud, prosecutors said.
Hightower had been free pending trial but was locked up in early May 2016 after prosecutors added charges related to a 2013 fatal shooting in Rosedale.
“The seeds of discontent were growing" in Hightower’s “heart and mind,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra Wilkinson said in court. “He learned and knew and found out that it was in fact Ms. Ashburne’s neighbor, the whistleblower, who had started this whole thing.”
Wilkinson told jurors he turned to his close friends Carter and Mosley for help, though she cautioned there were no “smoking gun” phone calls showing such an explicit arrangement. She said there are instead “nuggets” highlighting motives and relationships.
Surveillance cameras in the area captured additional clues: There was a Pontiac Grand Am at the scene 45 minutes prior, and again after, attempting to pick up the fleeing shooter.
“It was there to pick up the shooter and missed him by seconds,” Wilkinson asserted.
Breaking News Alerts Newsletter
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
The vehicle was traced to the mother of Carter’s girlfriend.
A silver Audi with a European-style front license plate, matching a vehicle owned by Hightower, also was near the scene both before and after, court records show. Hightower had allowed Mosley to use his car after he was jailed in the health fraud cases, authorities say.
Investigators obtained cell site location data that they say shows Mosley and Carter’s phones in contact the morning of the shooting and moving toward Ashburne’s home on Rosalind Avenue. Mosley’s cellphone data also puts him in the area where a camera captured the Audi, prosecutors say.
Mosley testified before a grand jury and acknowledged being in the area of the killing, but said it was because he sold marijuana there, court records show. Trainor, his attorney, told jurors Tuesday that Mosley was there the morning of the shooting because he was supposed to give the Audi to Carter, and was not part of any murder plot.
Though not charged in Ashburne’s killing, Hightower is serving 30 years in federal prison after being convicted for extortion resulting in the killing of another man connected to the Medicaid scam, according to court records. The victim, David Wutoh, was sleeping on a friend’s couch when someone fired seven shots through the living room window.
Prosecutors alleged in that case that Wutoh had taken money from Hightower and another man, and failed to pay them back. Both men had sent him a series of threatening messages about repayment. Hightower is appealing that conviction.