3 plead guilty, get 'lenient' sentences in gang shooting on Old York Road

December 02, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

When the McCabe Avenue Boys wanted to send a message to their rivals, the Old York Road Boys, Ernest Woodard was willing to carry a Tech 9 pistol to a drive-by shooting. But gang loyalty goes only so far for Woodard, who decided yesterday he'd rather testify against his friends than stand trial with them on murder charges.

Woodard's move, which came after 2 1/2 days of jury selection and pretrial motions in Baltimore Circuit Court, prompted two of the other McCabe boys to rethink their not-guilty pleas. When all was done, they had pleaded guilty to murder in return for sentences described as "extraordinarily lenient" by the judge.

The prosecutor justified the plea bargains -- which called for prison terms ranging from 10 years to 40 years for a shooting that killed two and wounded six -- by saying that the state's case was hampered by reluctant witnesses.

"This is a gang retaliation-type of homicide and obviously the people who live in the area are concerned about retaliation for any participation in the trial process," said prosecutor Mark Cohen. Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe said she could see why.

The judge blasted the defendants for failing to apologize for a shooting that killed and wounded innocent bystanders.

"It's appalling to me I'm in a position I have to give these ridiculously low sentences even though they've admitted their guilt in something that was like the St. Valentine's Day Massacre -- only the people killed weren't selected -- and nobody's got a word to say," Judge Bothe said.

Five members of the McCabe gang had been set to stand trial in the Aug. 23, 1992, shooting, but one defendant was removed this week to await a later trial because his lawyer was sick. The men were charged with first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of two men killed in the drive-by shooting and attempted first-degree murder in connection with those who were wounded.

The charges stemmed from an incident in which the occupants of a van driving past a crowded street corner in the 4000 block of Old York Road opened fire with semi-automatic weapons. Mr. Cohen said the shooting was in retaliation for the slaying of a McCabe Avenue resident six days earlier.

One of the men who died, 34-year-old Kent Johnson, was shot 19 times. The other, Antoine Palmer, was shot eight times.

The McCabes and the Old York Road Boys have feuded off and on for decades. In recent years, the encounters have been increasingly violent and sparked by drug dealing.

Woodard, 26, agreed to plead guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and two handgun violations -- and agreed to testify against his friends. In return, Woodard would receive concurrent 30-year sentences for the murders, with all but 10 years suspended, and concurrent 10- year, no-parole sentences for the handgun charges.

This prompted 17-year-old Theodore E. Smith -- named as the driver of the van and the only one of the six occupants who was unarmed -- to plead guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and two hand gun violations. In return, Smith received a 30-year sentence with all but 15 years suspended.

Reginald King, 23, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in exchange for concurrent life sentences with all but 40 years suspended. Mr. Cohen said that King had been armed with an AK-47 assault rifle; five bullets taken from Mr. Johnson came from a military rifle.

Morris K. Gary, 20, was the only one of the co-defendants to reject the plea bargain and elect to go ahead with a jury trial. Mr. Cohen said that Mr. Gary was armed with a 9-mm handgun the night of the shooting and his fingerprint was found in the van.

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