A member of a Glen Burnie gang that calls itself the Crips pleaded guilty to murder yesterday, as county prosecutors offered a reduced sentence in exchange for testimony about a leadership struggle in the group that turned deadly.
James Thomas Blake, 19, of Severna Park pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the Aug. 7 killing of Mark Anthony Miller, who authorities say was attacked in a Glen Burnie apartment.
Blake, the third of five people charged in the slaying to plead guilty, could be sentenced to life in prison. But Assistant State's Attorney M. Virginia Miles said she would ask Judge Robert H. Heller Jr. to order Blake to serve 30 years of that term if he testifies against others who could receive sentences of life with no chance for parole if convicted.
Blake's first opportunity comes in a trial that started yesterday with jury selection. Andrew Grant Handschuh, 17, of Pasadena is to be tried as an adult on a charge of first-degree murder.
Police said that since Miller's killing, the Crips -- no relation to the violent Los Angeles gang -- have maintained a low profile.
"Since this incident, we have not had any dealings with them. I think they are scared. Or I think they learned a lesson," said Detective Kevin King, part of an Anne Arundel County police team that keeps tabs on the county's gangs, which are mostly small organizations.
County police Detective Thomas Torrence, who investigated the case, added, "They were rinky-dink amateurs, but as you can see they participated in a crime of violence."
Like gangs elsewhere that copy the L.A. gang, the local group has adopted the Crips' trademark blue bandannas, police say.
Members of the local gang show their colors in any way, for example tying a bandanna around a ponytail or letting it hang from a back pocket.
Yesterday, a young man who attended the hearing pulled a bandanna partly out of a pocket and showed it to Blake before Blake was taken from the courtroom.
Most of the gang members are in their late teens to early 20s, with the youngest in their mid-teens and oldest in their late 20s, police say.
Their activities include drinking, using drugs, fighting other gangs, fighting with each other and branding the Crips name on new members, police said.
King said he was unsure of the size of the local Crips gang.
Police and prosecutors say Miller portrayed himself to the gang as a high-ranking member of another Crips organization and took charge of the group, annoying Blake, Handschuh and 20-year-old Sean Matthew Almond of Glen Burnie, whose murder trial is set for July.
Miller was attacked at a Glen Burnie party where he was branding members with a hot knife, police have said. Police allege that the men plotted to kill him as he prepared to brand a 16-year-old girl, who later was placed in the custody of juvenile authorities after admitting to being an accessory after the fact to murder.
Tracy C. Devilbiss, 28, of Glen Burnie, identified by police as the gang's top-ranking female, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. The plea is conditioned upon her cooperation with prosecutors.
Miles said Miller's throat was slit and he was stabbed. She said Almond is accused of bashing in Miller's head in the dugout of a baseball field across the street, where he was left. She said the women had lesser roles, including cleaning up the apartment.
Blake has been threatened in jail, said his lawyer, David Putzi, who expects to ask the state Division of Correction to move him to an out-of-state prison.