2 men accused of operating drug ring plotted from jail to kill judge, prosecutor, jury is told

January 25, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Facing stiff federal drug charges, two men identified as leaders of a violent Park Heights heroin ring plotted from jail to kill the judge and prosecutor in their case, a government lawyer said yesterday.

Prosecutors say Levi "Vi" Johnson and Stover "Big Ox" Stockton hatched a murder-for-hire plan that was part of a pattern of violence and intimidation used to dominate their drug turf in an impoverished slice of Northwest Baltimore.

"They owned the neighborhood there around Woodland [and Park Heights Avenues], and they owned it with an iron fist," Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea L. Smith told jurors in opening arguments, as the men went on trial in federal court.

The two are charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin and conspiracy to kill federal officials.

"They also beat people; they killed people," Smith said. "Because when it didn't go the way they wanted - when something got in the way - they had one answer."

Defense attorneys say the two men aren't guilty. They told jurors yesterday that the real criminals involved in a drug ring loosely known as the "Woodland organization" or the "yellow and white" gang have cut deals with the government to testify against their clients.

"The government witnesses are the killers in this case," said Baltimore attorney Gary A. Ticknor, representing Johnson.

The trial, expected to last four weeks, began under heightened security yesterday. Juror names in the case are not being made public, and spectators must pass through metal detectors at the main entrance to the federal courthouse and the doors to the courtroom.

Stockton, 29, and Johnson, 23, are two of four men identified in court papers as leaders of a drug ring responsible for killing two men and selling about 2 pounds of raw heroin a month - pocketing as much as $5,000 a day - from 1994 to 1999. The two other leaders were Antonio Hayes, 25, also identified as Antonio Hayes-Henry, and Elijah "Jake" Jacobs, 21.

The four men were arrested in August 1999 on federal drug conspiracy charges that could have meant life in prison without parole.

Investigators say the men came up with the contract-killing plan while they were in jail, awaiting trial. According to court records, they wanted to kill presiding U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamie M. Bennett, the original prosecutor on the case, thinking that the killings would cause disruption and force authorities to drop the drug charges against them because of speedy-trial rules.

The plan was discovered after another inmate tipped off federal investigators, court records indicate. Legg and Bennett stepped down from the case after the plot was discovered. U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis now is presiding over the case.

Hayes and Jacobs pleaded guilty to drug charges in late December and are expected to testify against Johnson and Stockton. Attorney Ticknor described the murder plot yesterday as Hayes' "hare-brained scheme."

Ticknor also challenged the government's position that the drug conspiracy involved more than a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of heroin, saying that police searches at 13 different addresses in summer 1999 turned up no heroin.

Gary W. Christopher, assistant U.S. public defender representing Stockton, didn't dispute that there was a drug ring. He said that Stockton was not the bullying enforcer described in court records.

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