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Three guilty in long-running Baltimore murder conspiracy

Three men were convicted Friday in a yearlong string of violence that saw a man killed and five wounded after East Baltimore drug dealer Robert Moore promised the extinction of his foes as vengeance for the death of a relative.

Moore, 45, was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, first-degree murder and multiple attempted-murder counts. His nephew, Quincy Chisholm, 22, was convicted solely on the conspiracy count, and Moore's brother, Anthony Roach, 36, was convicted of conspiracy and attempted murder.

All three could receive life sentences at a hearing set for late January. Four other defendants had previously pleaded guilty, including Moore's wife, Sarah Hooker, 31.

Roach urged the judge to sentence him on the spot. "You said you wanted life, so give me life and let me go," he said, glaring at prosecutor Kelly Madigan.

The trial was a major test for the Major Investigations Unit, a special group of prosecutors established by State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein.

"It validates what we described as a new paradigm," Bernstein said of Friday's outcome. He said the case shows how his office can use conspiracy charges to bring down dangerous offenders in complex, multiple-defendant cases.

Federal authorities have long used such efforts to break up city gangs, and Bernstein has vowed to take on some of the work himself. Last week, his office indicted 48 alleged Black Guerrilla Family members and associates who will be prosecuted by the same unit — a challenge he acknowledged will be on a different scale than the Moore case.

Despite Friday's verdicts, the trial was not a problem-free showcase for the elite Bernstein unit: The two assistant state's attorneys handling the case were held in contempt of court and fined $100 after secretly arranging a lunch date between two cooperating witnesses.

Bernstein said his office respects the judge's finding but will launch its own inquiry into the incident. The prosecutors will not be suspended while that investigation is conducted, he said.

Defense lawyers in the case also questioned the measures restricting their access to evidence; prosecutors said that was necessary to keep witnesses safe. And Moore was not present in the courtroom after he rejected the judge's authority over him — in what his mother said was a protest because he believed he would not get a fair trial.

The events of the case were set in motion April 27, 2011, with the fatal stabbing of Darian Kess, a former high school wrestling star and a relative of Moore's. The conspiracy began the next day, when Hooker rounded up a witness to the stabbing who identified Alex Venable as one of those involved.

"They were going to take care of it themselves," Assistant State's Attorney LaRai Everett said in her closing arguments. And from that point, Moore vowed the "total obliteration" of Venable and his family in the 1900 block of N. Collington Ave., prosecutors said.

Within a few hours, Venable was dead, and his friends, Thomas McNeil and Derrick Vaughn, were wounded.

The "rampage of revenge" carried on throughout the rest of the year, Everett said. Even after Moore was jailed in another case, he directed Hooker to "make some noise" in periods that saw too few shootings for his liking.

The break in the case came when a store owner took down the license plate of a rental car after one of the shootings. Detectives began to link the attacks when they realized Hooker had rented vehicles on the dates of two of them.

Attorneys for the three men declined to comment after the case. They had previously urged the jury to consider the charges against each of their clients separately, rather than looking at the allegations as a single case.

Everett rejected that idea in her closing argument to jurors. "We didn't just throw a bunch of evidence at you like spaghetti and see what stuck to the wall," she said.

The jury took five days to reach its verdict and on Thursday, Circuit Judge Emanuel Brown had to remind members to keep their deliberations civil.

Brown thanked the jurors for their close attention to the evidence in what he said was the longest trial he had experienced in his time on the bench.

Bernstein said the case also helps dispel the idea that that Baltimore juries are not willing to convict in serious cases.

"The jury's verdict sends a message that Baltimore and its citizens will not tolerate violence on the streets," he said.

An earlier version of this story included a mugshot of a different Robert Moore.

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