Shooting suspect named in slaying of a boy at play

March 10, 1995|By Michael James | Michael James,Sun Staff Writer

More than 15 months after young Tauris Johnson was gunned down in one of the city's most notorious slayings, the man accused of firing the fatal bullet has been publicly identified for the first time -- a bodyguard for a New York drug kingpin.

Eric Drayton of the Bronx -- identified only by his nickname "Uptown" in federal indictment papers -- was linked to the killing by tests showing that his 9 mm handgun fired the shot that hit 10-year-old Tauris in the head, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Manuelian. Drayton, being held at the Baltimore City Detention Center, is awaiting trial on murder and drug charges.

Court papers filed recently in U.S. District Court describe him as the person who "fired a volley of shots" on Nov. 4, 1993, while trying to protect Nathaniel Dawson Jr., the New York drug dealer who ran a large cocaine ring out of East Baltimore.

Drayton and another Dawson bodyguard -- who were each paid $1,500 per trip to Baltimore -- repeatedly fired at a car full of drug dealers believed to have been infringing on Dawson's turf, a federal affidavit said.

Tauris was playing football at the corner of Regester and Oliver streets when he was struck by a bullet. His death came to symbolize the grip that ruthless drug gangs have on some city neighborhoods.

Two of Dawson's gang members, who later cooperated with federal authorities, said they and "Uptown" fled the shooting scene with Dawson in a rental van. The group went back to a Towson motel, where Dawson bought them food and marijuana "and they watched the reports of the incident on the news," the affidavit said.

The two gang members "indicated that Uptown was in a state of shock and knew he had hit the little boy," according to the affidavit.

Dawson was sentenced to four life terms Feb. 24 after prosecutors argued that his drug gang ultimately caused Tauris' death, and the death of a key trial witness who was killed by Dawson's father to prevent her from testifying.

At his sentencing hearing, Dawson protested that he had never fired a shot during the shootout. "It has been stated that Eric Drayton was the shooter that killed Tauris Johnson," Dawson said. "But it has yet to be proven that he is being brought to justice in the public eye. It is still being portrayed that [I am] the killer of Tauris Johnson."

Drayton was charged with murder and drug conspiracy in

November, although federal prosecutors never announced the arrest. At the time, Drayton was in a maximum-security prison serving a two- to four-year sentence for selling heroin in New York City, said Linda Foglia, a New York prisons spokeswoman.

He has since been brought to Baltimore and is being held for a hearing on his competency to stand trial, according to prosecutors and U.S. marshals.

Members of the slain boy's family were surprised yesterday when informed about Drayton's arrest.

"I can only say that I'm glad to hear it," said William Morton, Tauris' father. "I think all of them are responsible for my boy's death. They were all out there shooting. As far as I'm concerned, one's no better than the other."

Investigators looking for Tauris' killer got a big break in December 1993, while arresting Dawson at his Bronx apartment. They seized "mountains" of drug supplies, as well as 12 handguns and 3,000 rounds of ammunition, court papers said.

Bullets test-fired from two of those handguns matched the 9 mm Glock bullets fired by Dawson's bodyguards during the shootout that killed Tauris, according to ballistics experts from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' national laboratory in Rockville.

Prosecutors said one of the guns was used by Drayton and the other by Kendrick McCray of the Bronx, who on Oct. 17, 1994, pleaded guilty in Baltimore Circuit Court to second-degree murder in Tauris' death. Although McCray fired two shots at the rival drug dealers, neither shot hit anyone, court papers said.

Dawson was the first to pull out a gun the night of Tauris' death. But he never fired as his bodyguards peppered the neighborhood with bullets, court papers said. At one point, Dawson yelled to his bodyguards that they had "hit the kid" and they fled, the papers said.

Another defendant in the case, Seth Webb, 25, also of the Bronx, was sentenced yesterday to life in prison by U.S. District Court Judge William M. Nickerson.

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