Murder plotter convicted of arranging bail bondsman's death

With his fiancee seven months pregnant and his bail bonds business struggling to get the insurance it needed, Ralph Hall received a voice mail from someone offering to help him out.

On a midsummer evening, Hall drove to the KIPP Ujima Village Academy on Greenspring Avenue to try to make a deal. He met his contact and they talked inside Hall's car for just over five minutes, video of the scene shows, before the other man pulled out a .38-caliber revolver and shot Hall twice, killing him, according to prosecutors.

"It was never just an innocent business meeting," said Thiru Vignarajah, chief of the major investigations unit in the city prosecutor's office. "It was a murder."

A Baltimore jury convicted Derrick Toomer of murder and conspiracy Friday for helping set up Hall's July 2008 killing, returning a guilty verdict after a little more than an hour's deliberation. George Foster Johnson, the man accused of pulling the trigger, is scheduled for trial next week.

The court dates come after a years-long investigation into a killing that initially confounded detectives, Vignarajah said. Authorities said another man had hired Toomer to kill Hall because he believed Hall had set him up for a robbery.

"The family has waited a long time for justice," Vignarajah added.

The break came when another of Toomer's associates, James Nelson, was picked up in late November 2008 in connection with an armed robbery and told police he knew something about a murder.

Isaac Klein, Toomer's attorney, had argued that the evidence against his client was weak.

Called to testify in Toomer's trial, Nelson tried to plead the Fifth Amendment until prosecutors pointed out that nothing he said would incriminate himself, Vignarajah said. Reluctantly, Nelson described the details of Toomer's plan.

Assistant State's Attorney Patricia McLane said that summer, Toomer, Nelson and Johnson, the alleged shooter, "spent almost every day together making money."

McLane said in court that another man came to Toomer and offered to pay what she described as the price of a used car to kill Hall. She said it made sense that Toomer would rope in Johnson.

Toomer and Johnson came up with the ruse to lure Hall out to the school where, in the middle of summer, no one would be around. Toomer needed Johnson's help, McLane said, because he was unknown to Hall and would not raise suspicion.

In a black-and-white video captured in the school parking lot, Toomer's car can be seen pulling into a spot and waiting for two minutes before leaving. The two allegedly took that time to pin down the final details of the killing, McLane said. All the while, Hall waited in his car in a lot nearby.

Soon, another video showed, Hall's car drove up to the top lot and, in just over five minutes, he was dead. Johnson dumped his body face down, prosecutors said, and rifled through his pockets, taking his money.

Johnson then allegedly took Hall's car, went to meet Toomer nearby and tried to wipe down the door handles and get rid of any other genetic material, prosecutors said. They were mostly successful, Vignarajah said, but just enough DNA was left behind that police would not rule out that Toomer had been in the car.

"Sometimes it's not the crime that kills you, but the cleanup," the prosecutor said. "They didn't quite do their job well enough."

It was not until 2011 that Toomer was charged in the murder, but he appeared to quickly realize he was in trouble. He admitted driving to the school, Vignarajah said, and wondered if he could make a deal.

He asked a detective, "What do I have to do to get out of this?"

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