Suspects in killingsof 5 plead not guilty

Trial scheduled July 6 for four men charged in mass slaying

March 18, 2000|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Under the eyes of 20 armed officers, the four men accused of one of the worst mass killings in Baltimore history made their first appearance in Baltimore Circuit Court yesterday.

Shackled, handcuffed and with chains around their waists, the four pleaded not guilty to charges they killed five women in the 3500 block of Elmley Ave. on Dec. 5 in what police believe was a drug-related slaying.

Their trial is scheduled to begin July 6.

All four -- Robert Nay Bryant, 23, Ismail Malik Wilson, 27, Tariq A. Malik, 20, and Tavon McCoy, 21 -- are charged with first-degree murder and armed robbery.

Prosecutors said yesterday that they might ask for the death penalty. At the least, they will seek sentences of life without parole.

"We'll look at the facts, the law and exercise sound judgment," said Assistant State's Attorney Lawrence Doan.

Yesterday's arraignment was conducted under unusually tight security. Armed sheriff's deputies sealed off the area outside the courtroom. Deputies were also posted inside the courtroom of Judge Kathleen Friedman, next to the doors, behind each defendant and facing the crowd, which was filled with family members of the victims and the suspects.

Police say the killings sparked retaliatory attacks. Police found one defendant, Malik, with his throat slashed 90 minutes after his picture was shown on the news. One of the witnesses to the murders, Ronald P. McNeil, 37, has been charged with the killing of a man he believed was involved in the slayings, police said.

Tension sparked in the courtroom at one point yesterday when Bryant expressed anger at his attorney. She had told the judge that the defendants did not want the charges read in court, but Bryant objected.

"Time out," he barked. "I didn't say that."

The judge then instructed the clerk to read the indictments. As the clerk listed the names of the victims, relatives sobbed.

Cut down in a hail of bullets in the two-story rowhouse on Elmley Avenue were Mary Helen Collien, 56; her daughter, Mary McNeil Matthews, 39, who owned the house; and Collien's granddaughter, Makisha Jenkins, 18. Also killed were family friends Trennell Alston, 26, and Lavanna Spearman, 23.

Police said the shootings were intended as a message to McNeil's relatives and friends who were selling up to 2 pounds of drugs a day from the Elmley Avenue rowhouse. The dispute revolved around either drug money debt or a stolen package of narcotics, police said.

Pub Date: 3/18/00

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