A City Circuit Court judge sentenced three men to prison yesterday for running a drug ring in a West Baltimore neighborhood where a 6-year-old girl died last summer in a cross fire between two gunmen.
The victim, Tiffany Smith, was hit in the head by a stray 9mm bullet July 9 as she played in the 1800 block of Rosedale St.
None of the ring members were charged in Tiffany's death, but prosecutor Martin Clarke told the judge the ring's activities contributed to an increase in drug-related violence in the neighborhood.
The ring members sold cocaine and heroin as they washed cars in the rear alley of the 3100 block of North Ave.
Yesterday, Judge John N. Prevas sentenced the ringleader, Steven Hicks, 38, of the 1400 block of Mosher St. to 20 years in prison for distributing heroin, distributing cocaine and conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine.
Judge Prevas also sentenced James Gray, 41, of the 3100 block of Baker St. to three years in prison on the same charges. Two days after Tiffany's slaying, Gray was quoted in a story about the incident that ran in The Sun. Gray said he was concerned about the memory of Tiffany Smith, and pledged to donate a day's earnings from the carwash to buy flowers and a wreath for her family.
"I feel very bad about it," he said in the story. "It just hurts, you know, that a young kid had to die in violence."
Mr. Clarke said Gray's quote smacked of "hypocrisy" and he urged the judge to impose a stiff sentence because of it. "Even if he was sincere, it [Gray's quote] shows a warping of traditional values," Mr. Clarke argued.
Kirk Osborn, Gray's lawyer, argued that the comment should have no bearing on the sentence. The judge agreed with Mr. Osborn, saying Gray's quote was "irrelevant."
Judge Prevas also sentenced Lawrence McCutcheon, 34, of the 1600 block of North Hilton Street to two years in prison.
Another ring member, Franklin Palm, 41, of the 2400 block of E. Monument St. was sentenced to a four-year prison term March 17.
"The drug dealers don't even see their role in the violence occurring in their own neighborhood," Mr. Clarke said.
Last year, police began an investigation into the carwash after residents complained of drug activity, Mr. Clarke said.
The carwash was placed under surveillance and police determined that customers would give money to the ring members, who would retrieve packets of drugs from carwash supplies. On July 15, the day Tiffany was buried, police arrested three of the four members as they dealt drugs at the carwash. Eight vials of cocaine and three bags of heroin were seized, Mr. Clarke said. Hicks fled from the scene, but was arrested about a month later, Mr. Clarke said.
Judge Prevas said Hicks "should be removed from society so more people will not suffer from his greed."
Guy Wilson, 20, of the 300 block of Jennings Road in Severna Park was charged in Tiffany's slaying and will stand trial next month.