Prosecutors say turf war over drugs led to slayings

October 07, 1994|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Sun Staff Writer

Nathaniel Dawson Jr.'s turf was secured by drugs and threats that eventually took their toll -- killing 10-year-old Tauris Johnson and a woman who told a grand jury about the drug gang, federal prosecutors said yesterday.

A string of evidence -- witnesses, correspondence, guns and drugs -- will be presented during the monthlong trial that opened for Mr. Dawson and three others in Baltimore, prosecutors said. That evidence will include letters between alleged gang members regarding a conspiracy to kill witnesses, prosecutors claimed.

But attorneys for two key defendants argued that their clients were not involved in the killings.

Nathaniel Dawson Jr., 26, who is charged with killing Tauris, was running for cover when a shootout started in an East Baltimore neighborhood, his attorney told jurors. His father, Nathaniel Dawson Sr., 55, who is charged with killing Latisha Murphy, a witness to the shootout, was en route to Florida, another attorney said.

The boy's death symbolized the toll on innocent victims by warring drug gangs, and led to calls for a dusk-to-dawn curfew for children, as well as tighter gun controls.

On Nov. 4, as Tauris and his friends played a late afternoon game of football in their East Baltimore neighborhood, shooting erupted between rival drug gangs, including one run by the younger Mr. Dawson, prosecutors contend. As Tauris ran for cover, a stray bullet hit him in the head. He died three hours later.

Ms. Murphy's killing three months later highlighted the fears of many witnesses who cooperate in violent crime cases. During testimony before a grand jury, she had described the role of two men in the gunfight that left Tauris dead.

The Dawsons are among four people being tried on federal charges in U.S. District Court.

The younger Mr. Dawson is charged with killing the 10-year-old and of conspiring with his father to kill Ms. Murphy. Seth Webb, 25, also is accused in the killings. Beverly Brown, 29, is charged with drug conspiracy. The men are from New York. Ms. Brown is from Baltimore.

Paul Polansky, the attorney representing the younger Mr. Dawson, said his client was not involved in the boy's shooting.

"Mr. Dawson in no way shot a gun, had a gun -- what he did was run for cover," he told jurors.

Prosecutors contend that the elder Mr. Dawson met with his son in jail the night before Ms. Murphy was killed. The next day, a man walked up to the woman on the street and fired two shots into her face at point-blank range.

But a lawyer for the elder Mr. Dawson said his client could not have been involved in the woman's shooting.

He was traveling to Florida when she was shot in February, attorney Howard Cardin said during the opening of the trial.

Mr. Cardin said no one was with Mr. Dawson during his travels and he could not pinpoint his whereabouts that day.

Mr. Cardin said he expects to produce documentation to prove that Mr. Dawson could not have pulled the trigger, however.

"He had an appointment in Florida and he kept it," Mr. Cardin said. "It was impossible for him to have been there [at the shooting]."

Prosecutors said yesterday the younger Mr. Dawson used force to secure the drug turf along Regester Street in East Baltimore.

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