Testimony shines light into a dark city episode

This Just In...

March 22, 2002|By Dan Rodricks

HERE WE HAVE inspiration from the battered, broken junkie streets of East Baltimore. Here, at the center of one of the most depressing tales of city life, is Rachel Rogers. Attention must be paid, and the moment savored, by all who yearn for a new day, when the drug addicts come clean and the dealers disappear and the children play without fear on the sidewalks. Here we have the story of Rachel Rogers, who did the right thing.

Maybe it was guilt of having spent, at the age of 28, half her life addicted to cocaine and heroin -- of having been a regular customer of the killer-dealers -- that persuaded Rogers to stop lying and to tell the truth about what she saw.

Maybe it was the horror of experience, a tormenting memory of that March night a year ago in the rain on Harford Road.

Whatever compelled Rogers to testify yesterday afternoon against her old friend and drug supplier, Howard Whitworth, the accused cop-killer known as "Wee," it was not fear of jail.

No deal had been struck for her testimony.

Here she was, in dark fleece pullover, telling in simple, clear and awful detail what happened to "Officer Mike" -- Michael Cowdery, 31 years old -- so that the state of Maryland might secure a conviction against her old friend, Wee.

Rogers sat on the witness stand, about 25 feet across the carpeted, well-appointed courtroom from the jury. Wee sat at a table to her right, about 15 feet away. The prosecutor, Don Giblin, asked the questions.

"You have a drug problem?" Giblin asked Rogers.

"Yes, since I was 14," she said.

Did Rogers know a young man named Mookie?

Yes.

Did she know another named Turbo?

Yes, Mookie and Turbo were drug dealers.

One of them, a man with braided Medusa hair named Darrell "Turbo" Bizzell, admitted to this during testimony yesterday morning. He said he and his nephew, William "Mookie" Houston, sold Ready Rock, crack cocaine. One of the customers was Rachel Rogers.

She was with Mookie and Turbo in the Harford Road carryout known as Mike's on March 12, 2001.

It was about 10 p.m.

The police came -- four of them, part of a special unit with the dangerous assignment of breaking up the open-air drug markets that thrived for years in the Eastern District.

Turbo stepped out of the carryout to have a smoke in the rain. That's when he first saw the police officers, all dressed in dark clothing with "hoodies" for their heads, identification tags dangling from chains about their necks.

Within a minute or so, all four officers -- a woman and three men, including Cowdery -- were standing directly opposite Turbo, Mookie and Rogers. The one Rogers knew as "Officer Mike" stood directly opposite her. In the official jargon of the Baltimore Police Department, these officers were conducting a "field interview." Thousands of them have occurred in the city in the last two years. It is part of the grand plan of Baltimore's mayor and police commissioner to break the cycle of drug dealing and shootings that have ruined large swaths of the city.

Suddenly Rogers heard the female officer yell, "He has a gun."

Rogers looked to her right. She saw her old friend, Wee Whitworth, coming toward the group. He wore a black or blue hoodie. He had a silver gun in his hand.

Rogers heard a shot.

What happened next? "What does Mookie do?" Giblin, the prosecutor asked.

"Run," said Rogers.

"What does Turbo do?"

"Ran."

"The officer facing Mookie, what does he do?"

"Run."

"The officer facing Turbo, what does he do?"

"Run."

"The lady officer, what does she do?"

"Run."

"The officer talking to you, Officer Mike, what does ... he ... do?"

"Fall," Rogers said, her voice fading. "He fell on my legs. ... He fell on me." And it was here that the awful truth about that night and her many years as a drug addict seemed to come crushing in from three sides at once. Here was where Rachel Rogers cried.

Someone handed her a box of tissues, and she wiped her eyes.

On the night of the shooting, when detectives asked her to identify the shooter, Rogers refused to give up her old friend and drug dealer, Wee.

"I wasn't going to tell them," Rogers said.

"Why?" Giblin asked.

"My friend," Rogers said.

Her friend and drug provider, Wee.

But by May, Rogers had changed her mind.

And yesterday, this woman who had wasted half of her life on drugs, who had witnessed the death of a young police officer bravely trying to break the grip of the killer-dealers on East Baltimore, gave up her old friend.

"Why?" Giblin asked.

"'Cause it's not right. ... It's not fair. He died for nothing, Officer Mike."

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