Climbing the ladder in drug world Federal probe offers glimpse into evolving role of young people

February 27, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Mookie had just entered his teens when he started running money for an East Baltimore drug gang. He had an IQ of 73. His own lawyer described the house he grew up in as "the pit of narcotics."

"He needs help," the boy's lawyer pleaded in court in 1991, arguing that his 5-foot-2-inch, 110-pound client need not be tried as an adult in a drug case. "He needs to be out of 1746 E. Oliver St."

But Darnell "Mookie" Jones never left home. He was convicted of manslaughter at 14. Convicted of selling drugs at 16. Convicted of having a gun at 18. Charged with slaying three people between December 1994 and April 1995, but never prosecuted.

Today, at 20, Jones is a central figure in a far-reaching federal case aimed at bringing down a multimillion-dollar drug gang that police allege has been responsible for dozens of shootings and several slayings in East Baltimore.

Eleven defendants -- including a former city police officer -- are scheduled to stand trial in July. But prosecutors have started to outline in court the hierarchy of a gang allegedly led by Darnell Jones' stepbrother, Anthony Ayeni Jones, whom they describe as "one of the most violent and feared criminals in Baltimore."

The case reveals how children can advance in the drug world, how corrupt police officers and possibly jail guards can help dealers elude prosecution, and how a jailed suspect could order hits on federal witnesses and their mothers.

Darnell Jones was arrested two weeks ago -- shortly after being released from prison, where he had been sent for a parole violation -- and accused with being a top lieutenant in the drug gang.

And federal prosecutors said in court Monday and last week that Darnell Jones is to be indicted any day in the 1994 drug slaying of Keith Westmoreland, who was found dead in a Gay Street rowhouse.

They also said he is responsible for the May slaying of Octavian Henry, 20, whom they labeled a police informant. He was repeatedly shot in an alley off East Oliver Street across from the Jones home.

Anthony Jones and former Baltimore Police Officer Erick McCrary are serving time in connection with the drug organization. They pleaded guilty in federal court in September -- Jones on a gun charge and McCrary to tampering with a witness while trying to fix another gun case against Anthony Jones.

But they were hit with more serious charges last month -- indicted under the federal murder in aid of racketeering statutes for allegedly planning to kidnap a rival drug lord and have him killed.

4 If convicted, both could face the death penalty.

A federal law enforcement source said the 11 arrests "took care of the hierarchy" but warned that the violence might not be over. That was evident last week, when prosecutors successfully argued in court that Darnell Jones should be held without bail because he allegedly was to kill witnesses on orders from his jailed stepbrother, Anthony Jones.

"It is clear that the drug organization continues to flourish even though Anthony Jones is incarcerated," Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert R. Harding told a federal magistrate last week.

Police got their first look into the drug organization six years ago, when they arrested Darnell Jones in the East Oliver Street house. Tezar T. Horsey, 13, had been fatally shot in the head with a .22-caliber handgun June 22, 1991, while sitting in an upstairs bedroom.

Darnell Jones, then 14, told homicide detectives he accidentally shot the middle school student while he was "fooling around" with the handgun. He pleaded guilty in juvenile court to involuntary manslaughter. Federal and city police investigators still believe that someone else pulled the trigger and that the youngster took the fall.

Saw violence early

It was in a violent environment that Darnell Jones grew up. His mother was killed by an intruder when Darnell was 5. He does not know his father. Anthony Jones' mother, Ruth, took him in.

"Ruth Jones, out of the kindness of her heart, was a guardian for this young man," Darnell Jones' lawyer, Alan Cohen, argued in 1991, at a hearing in Circuit Court to determine whether the teen-ager should be tried as an adult on drug-possession charges. He already had served time in the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County for the shooting death of Tezar.

'He is an errand boy'

Cohen portrayed his young client as immature and naive, "vulnerable to negative peer pressure."

"Now, here is a little boy and you can see, you can look at his face, look at his figure, 5-2, 110 pounds," Cohen said. "Let's assume the worst possible situation. What is he doing? Does he have any drugs on him? No. He is an errand boy delivering money, not a leader of some organization."

But Darnell Jones was convicted as an adult and served six months behind bars. A series of arrests followed in the early 1990s, including three on murder charges -- none of which was prosecuted.

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