Four men in Baltimore have been charged in the killing of a 35-year-old state witness who was scheduled to testify against one of their associates in an attempted-murder trial, police and prosecutors confirmed Tuesday.
Police said in court records that witness Melvin Ford was “shot twice in the head at point-blank range” Oct. 27 in “what appears to be a targeted execution” before his testimony in the early November trial of Travis Wells, 33.
Ford — who police said had declined witness protection before being killed — had identified Wells as one of the gunmen who opened fire on 37-year-old Shawn Thomas in East Baltimore on June 5, police said. Wells was arrested June 12.
In charging four of Wells’ friends in Ford’s killing, police cited recorded jail conversations in which Wells identified Ford as a witness in his case to several of his friends on the outside and asked them to intercede on his behalf.
The men — Julius Wilson Jr., 32, Aisheem Yarberough, 35, Kevin Whitfield, 44, and Deshaen Carroll, 44 — have all been charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in Ford’s killing.
Wells has not been charged in Ford’s killing, though police say detectives “are continuing to follow leads.”
A man has been charged with fatally shooting a man inside a corner store Saturday night before being shot himself while running from the scene, Baltimore police said.
Oct 30, 2017 at 11:15 AM
“Investigations such as these take twists and turns throughout,” said T.J. Smith, a police spokesman. “We believe there is more to this case, and our detectives are following up on that.”
Ford’s family could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The case is the latest in which a witness to violence has become a victim in Baltimore, which has a long, deeply entrenched “Stop Snitchin’” culture and has been called the “home of witness intimidation” by Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.
It comes as police are battling a historic homicide rate and begging city residents who witness crimes to come forward with information.
On Tuesday, Mosby’s office declined to comment on Ford’s killing.
However, Melba Saunders, Mosby’s spokeswoman, said that the “safety of our city relies on citizens’ participation in the criminal justice process” and Mosby’s office has doubled the size of and increased funding for her office’s victim and witness services unit, and “will continue to stress the importance of witness and victim services in enhancing public safety.”
According to court records, Ford provided information to police shortly after Thomas’ shooting June 5 in the 2000 block of Robb St. in East Baltimore Midway, and Wells’ arrest on June 12 was based in part on a recorded statement in which Ford told police “the sequence of events that led to” the shooting.
Police also recovered other evidence from the scene, including two vehicles with tags registered to Wells and shell casings from two different kinds of guns, court records say.
Wells learned that Ford was a witness against him on Oct. 14, after his attorney, Gil Amaral, visited him in jail and provided him with discovery materials in his case, police wrote in charging documents.
Amaral said Tuesday that “any defense attorney representing a client in a criminal case is obligated to provide that client with the discovery that’s provided to him by the state’s attorney’s office” as “part of providing adequate representation, as required by the Constitution.”
Amaral declined to comment on Wells’ case.
Starting the next day, Wells allegedly used a recorded jail line to make a series of calls to Yarberough, who in turn dialed others in to have three-way conversations with Wells, according to court records.
Detectives recovered those recordings after Ford was killed, the records say.
In one conversation, according to court records, Wells asked Wilson, also known as “The Janitor” or “Clean-up Man,” to “holla at” Ford about his statement to police.
“Say no more,” Wilson allegedly responded.
In another conversation, Yarberough allegedly told Wells he would personally reach out to Ford, saying “we on top of it; we gonna full-court-press him; we gonna tell him this is how it’s gonna be.”
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In a third, Wells allegedly told Whitfield to take Ford “out to the farm to chill for a minute.”
Yarberough was arrested Nov. 2 at a downtown hotel where he worked, police said. Whitfield was arrested Nov. 5 in the 2000 block of Robb St., the same block where Thomas was shot, police said.
Court records show Carroll was arrested Dec. 7 and Wilson was arrested Dec. 9, both on warrants issued Nov. 2.
Whitfield and Wilson did not have attorneys listed in court records. Yarberough and Carroll were each listed as being represented by the public defender’s office, which could not be reached for comment.
Police did not announce any of the charges or the arrests until Tuesday, a day after WBAL reported Ford had been a state witness in Wells’ case and Wilson had been arrested.