Four years after a stray bullet fatally struck 3-year-old McKenzie Elliott in the head, the Baltimore man who shot her pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court, closing one of the city’s most horrific homicide cases in recent memory.
Terrell Plummer, 29, appeared in court in a maroon prison uniform with short-cropped hair and quietly mumbled “yes” in response to questions from U.S. District Judge George L. Russell III. He asked Plummer whether he understood the plea agreement, which was reached just a week before his trial was to begin.
Plummer, who was federally charged in April 2017, pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 1, and prosecutors are recommending he receive 25 years.
While McKenzie’s family continues to endure her death, “today at least we’ve held her killer accountable,” Maryland U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur told reporters outside the downtown courthouse after the hearing.
The brief hearing brought closure to a case that once sparked outrage throughout the city and pledges from the city’s top officials that her killer would be brought to justice. Then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called it a "very, very painful time in our city.”
Hur said McKenzie’s death is like many others in the city, which are caused by disputes between gangs in the drug trade.
“We are facing significant challenges here in Baltimore with drug dealing and violence in our streets, but as we saw this week, with the convictions of eight members of the Barronette drug crew who were responsible for nine murders, and the guilty pleas of the corrupt police officer who worked with [Gun Trace Task Force], and the gang member who killed 3-year-old McKenzie Elliott, we can make progress,” he said in statement.
Earlier this week, federal jurors convicted eight members of West Baltimore drug crew known as “Trained To Go,” which was led by brothers Montana Barronette, 23, and Terrell Sivells, 27. Police had publicly named Barronette the city’s “No. 1 trigger puller” and connected him to seven murders.
Hur said violence and the drug trade are intertwined, and require the collaboration of local and federal resources.
“We’re all coming together to make sure we are targeting the most violent groups,” he said of the Baltimore Police Department, Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
McKenzie’s mother showed little emotion during the proceedings and declined to speak to reporters afterward. Hur sat next to her in the courtroom.
“It paralyzes me with fear to think about this happening to my own children. I have to imagine every other parent in Baltimore City is the same way,” Hur said. “Put yourself in the shoes of McKenzie Elliott’s mother.”
McKenzie’s family has described her as exhibiting a bright personality. They said she already knew her ABCs and could count to 30 and was excited to start school.
She was buried in a small pink coffin.
Special Agent in Charge Robert Cekada, who heads the Baltimore ATF division, said such complex investigations take time.
“Unless there is a video or a direct witness where an officer can make an arrest on scene … developing a complex investigation surrounding a violent drug trafficking organization takes time,” he said after the hearing.
“Witnesses are not willing to testify or cooperate because they are afraid of retribution in that neighborhood,” he said. “Many times we have to identify others who are responsible for violent crime, remove those people through other prosecutions and once we arrest someone known to be violent, and associated with this gang, witnesses often then begin to communicate with us. It takes time to get to that point.”
A public defender for Plummer did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Up until Plummer’s plea, his attorneys fought hard in his case, filing a motion this week to dismiss the count related to McKenzie’s death.
His attorneys also sought evidence used against another defendant, Tyrone Jamison, 25, who was initially identified as McKenzie’s shooter by Baltimore police.
Jamison was arrested on a probation warrant. In search warrant applications at the time, homicide detectives wrote that “confidential informants” had identified Jamison as the shooter, but police later determined he was “not the person” responsible for her death. According to prosecutors, Jamison admitted that he supplied the gun that Plummer used to shoot McKenzie.
Prosecutors said evidence ultimately led them to Plummer, who they said carried out the shooting to protect his gang’s drug territory.
At the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Metcalf said Plummer was a member of Old York Money Gang, or OYMG, “a violent street gang” that operated out of the Waverly area in North Baltimore. Members sold drugs and committed various acts of violence on behalf of the gang, he said.
On July 30, 2014, men who were adversaries of OYMG entered the gang’s territory to support a female friend who engaged in a fight with the sister of an OYMG member, according to Plummer’s plea agreement. Plummer and other OYMG members assaulted the men, stabbing one.
Two days later, on Aug. 1, the men returned to the neighborhood to confront Plummer and OYMG members. Plummer fired multiple shots, striking one of the men in an SUV in the forehead. Some of the bullets fired by Plummer missed their intended target and struck two additional victims, the plea agreement said. One victim suffered wounds to the chin and wrist. One bullet struck and killed McKenzie, who had been standing on a porch in the 3600 block of Old York Road.
After Metcalf read the alleged facts of the case, Russell asked Plummer if the statements were accurate.
“Yes,” Plummer told the judge.
Last month, five other members and associates of OYMG pleaded guilty. Davonte “Chopper” Rich and Jason Snowden pleaded guilty to participating in a racketeering conspiracy in connection with gang membership. Emmanuel Rose, Keith Wilson and Calvin “Monster” Watson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute between 280 and 840 grams of crack cocaine.
Tyron Brown and Davin Lawson, both of Baltimore, pleaded guilty earlier this year to participating in a drug distribution conspiracy. Lawson was sentenced to 80 months in federal prison. Brown has not yet been sentenced.
Jamison, who also was identified as a OYMG member and charged, also pleaded guilty Friday to a federal racketeering charge. His sentencing is scheduled for 3 p.m. Feb. 9.
All of the defendants sold controlled substances at or around “drug shops” controlled and managed by the OYMG, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Two other defendants charged in the case are scheduled to go to trial on November 5.