Man found guilty in killing tied to drugs Slaying in racketeering means life in prison

February 20, 1997|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

In Baltimore's drug circles, Donald Ferebee built his reputation as someone to be feared. He killed an underling to prove a point, then allegedly ordered the drive-by slaying of a state witness, a shooting that also left an innocent woman dead on an East Baltimore street.

Yesterday, a federal jury decided that Ferebee had broken a tough federal law designed to put violent drug dealers and organized-crime figures behind bars for the rest of their lives, finding him guilty of committing a killing in the course of racketeering.

Ferebee, 22, could face life in federal prison without parole when Senior U.S. District Judge Walter E. Black Jr. sentences him May 23. Prosecutors said the verdict should send a signal to drug dealers and citizens who live in terrorized neighborhoods.

The dealers "have to know that they will be prosecuted," Assistant U.S. Attorney James G. Warwick said after the verdict, which was reached after a weeklong trial and less than four hours of deliberation. "The most significant evidence in making a case like this comes from the community."

The case began like many other killings in the city, with a dispute over drugs and power that ended with gunfire and a cordoned-off crime scene.

On July 18, 1994, one of Ferebee's underlings, Richard Thomas Jr., got into an argument with another drug dealer. Thomas owed money to the dealer, who had followed him to Ferebee's house, at 701 N. Rose St.

Furious that Thomas had brought the drug dealer to his house, Ferebee chased Thomas down the street, cornered him in an alley and unloaded his .357 Magnum pistol into the victim, hitting him in the head and the body, prosecutors told jurors.

"He kept on firing," prosecutor Mark P. Cohen told the jury.

Ferebee was arrested within hours. Detectives found the weapon in Ferebee's house and said tests on Ferebee's hand showed he had recently fired a gun.

Three weeks before he was scheduled to go on trial in Baltimore Circuit Court, prosecutors said, Ferebee ordered the contract killing of Benjamin Paige, a key state witness in the Thomas case who had testified before a grand jury and was preparing to testify at the trial.

On Aug. 15, 1995, one of Ferebee's best friends, and two other men, drove onto the 800 block of N. Streeper St. Paige, 28, was killed in a barrage of semiautomatic gunfire, as was a bystander, Yolanda Evans, 18. Another bystander, Charon Peterson, 24, escaped with minor injuries.

The Thomas case was transferred to federal court, where Ferebee was charged with committing a violent crime in the aid of racketeering.

One man has pleaded guilty to his role in the Paige slaying, and two others are awaiting trial. Ferebee was originally charged in Circuit Court in the contract slaying and the bystander's death, but the charges were dropped after the case was moved to federal court.

Ferebee is now a prime target of an investigation into the contract slaying.

Ferebee's defense attorney, Roland Walker, told jurors this week that his client didn't kill Thomas and was not involved in the contract killing. Walker said Ferebee picked up the pistol after the shooting, which was why detectives found the residue on his hand.

Walker told the jurors that prosecutors were relying on fear to convict his client.

"We're here to judge this case on the facts and the evidence, and that's what's missing from the prosecution's case," Walker said.

Prosecutors said Ferebee killed Thomas to prove that he was in charge of his drug operation, enhancing his position in the racket -- a key element of the stiff federal charge. They asked the jurors not to be sidetracked by claims that Ferebee found the weapon and took it home "as a souvenir."

"It all fits together," Warwick said. "It all points to the guilt of Donald Ferebee."

Pub Date: 2/20/97

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