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Baltimore teacher's aide, assistant pastor was killed last year in attempt to quiet a witness, feds say

Latrina Ashburne obituary photo.
Latrina Ashburne obituary photo.(Handout)

Federal authorities in Baltimore announced Wednesday that a 37-year-old man has been indicted for witness retaliation and tampering related to the killing of a teacher’s aide and assistant pastor who was gunned down in North Baltimore last year.

Davon Carter, of Parkville, appeared in U.S. District Court and pleaded not guilty to charges that he killed 41-year-old Latrina Ashburne. He is charged “with intent to retaliate against a witness for providing a law enforcement officer with information relating to the commission and possible commission of a federal offense” and to prevent that person from testifying about the case.

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The case carries the possibility of the death penalty.

The circumstances of the case were not clear. Federal prosecutors suggested that Ashburne was not the intended target, saying that the witness Carter sought to kill is not named in the indictment. No other details about the case were provided and officials declined to elaborate.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services appears to be the lead agency on the case, with its agents walking Carter into the courtroom and joining U.S. Attorney Judson Mihok at the trial table. The agency, which oversees divisions such as the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health, did not respond to requests for comment about its role in the case.

Baltimore Police said the arrest was the result of a joint effort by city police, the FBI and HHS.

A 35-year-old man set to testify against an alleged shooter in an upcoming attempted murder case in Baltimore was gunned down himself a week before the trial in what police believe was a “targeted execution” of a state witness, according to court records.

“We’ve been working with the FBI since the onset of this tragic case,” said T.J. Smith, the chief spokesman for the Police Department. “Ms. Ashburne was a pillar in our community. We are grateful that the heartless individual responsible for her murder has been taken off of the streets.”

Attempts to reach relatives of Ashburne were not successful.

The case is the second brought this month in Baltimore in which authorities say a witness was targeted. Earlier this month, four men were 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 said in court records that witness Melvin Ford was “shot twice in the head at point-blank range” on Oct. 27 in “what appears to be a targeted execution” before his testimony in the early November trial of Travis Wells, 33.

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Wells was recorded on jail phone calls identifying Ford as a witness in his case to several of his friends on the outside, asking them to intercede on his behalf.

“We on top of it; we gonna full-court-press him; we gonna tell him this is how it’s gonna be,” one of the men was recorded saying, according to police.

State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby calls Baltimore the “home of witness intimidation” and has secured millions in grant funding to help crime victims and witnesses. In September, she said that prosecutors saw a 37 percent increase in families in need of relocation services in 2016 compared to the previous year, and overspent their budget for victim and witness services by $218,000. Officials said at that hearing that they expected to overspend by a similar amount this year.

Sharon Green Middleton, a Democrat who represents Ashburne’s neighborhood on the City Council, said the city continues to see an increase in crime.

“Everything seems to focus back on the way things are handled through the court system,” she said. “I’m glad this case is resolved, but there’s still so much more work to do.”

Baltimore police and prosecutors face a continuing challenge in getting witnesses — and even victims — to cooperate. A series of incidents, including a deadly firebombing, has helped to shake confidence in the criminal justice system, authorities and residents say.

Last year, police said Ashburne was fatally shot outside the home she shared with her mother in the 2900 block of Rosalind Ave. in the Cylburn neighborhood of North Baltimore around 7:30 a.m. on May 27, 2016.

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The shooting shocked her friends and family. Latrina Ashburne worked as a teacher's aide at Francis Scott Key Elementary School, helping special needs children, according to her sister.

Ashburne also served as an associate pastor at the Kingdom Restoration Center church on York Road, the Rev. Christian Hall, the church's senior pastor, told The Baltimore Sun last year.

Police released video last year that showed a man fleeing the scene.

Federal prosecutors said Ashburne was shot in the upper body as she tried to run.

Carter’s defense attorney did not contest his being detained while awaiting trial. He said his client is currently on parole.

Court records show Carter received 12 years in prison in 2006 after pleading guilty to drug possession with intent to distribute. Earlier that same year, he received eight years in prison in a separate drug case. In 2002, he received four years in prison on drug distribution charges.

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