Suspect in fatal arson faces new charges

Baltimore man held in fire that killed 7 is accused in robbery a month earlier

October 29, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Weeks before Darrell Brooks was accused of setting a deadly blaze that killed a family of seven in East Baltimore, he robbed a pizza deliveryman at gunpoint, court documents allege.

The deliveryman told detectives he saw Brooks' face in the news last week and realized that was the person who had robbed him last month.

Brooks, who is charged with murder and arson in the deaths of seven members of the Dawson family, was also charged with robbery with a deadly weapon and assault last week, and bail was set at $1 million.

The 21-year-old city man, who has a long record of arrests involving robbery, assault and drugs, was being held without bail in the Oct. 16 fire.

Authorities have said the blaze was set in retaliation for Angela Dawson's refusing to ignore drug dealing in her neighborhood and routinely calling police. She, her husband and their five children died as a result of the arson at Preston and Eden streets.

The pizza deliveryman was robbed at 9:20 a.m. Sept. 12, when two men approached him, put a gun to his head and demanded his money, documents show. The victim handed over his wallet, which contained $60. The gunmen then ran away.

On Thursday, the victim told detectives the gunman who robbed him, "looks like the guy in the Eden Street murders," according to prosecutors.

Detectives showed the victim a photo array and he identified Brooks as one of the men who robbed him.

In connection with the fire, Brooks is accused of kicking in the Dawson family's door, pouring gasoline throughout the first floor, then setting the house ablaze.

Keith and Kevin Dawson, both 9; Carnell Dawson Jr., 10; Juan Ortiz, 12; and LaWanda Ortiz, 14, perished on the upper floors of their three-story rowhouse. Dawson's husband, Carnell Dawson Sr., 43, escaped by jumping out of a second-story window, but was gravely injured. He died last week.

Authorities said they are considering bringing federal charges in the arson, which would mean Brooks could face a less-forgiving jury pool and possibly harsher penalties than in the city courts.

Brooks has had a troubled history.

He was once a fixture in City Hall, a young man in a tie and jacket who worked for City Council members passing out agendas and fixing microphones before meetings. As a clerk, he had a good relationship with council members, sometimes playing practical jokes on them.

He stopped working at City Hall last year. In April, he was handed a three-year suspended sentence for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. Six other charges, including theft and drug possession, were dropped at the time.

Brooks was supposed to be on two years' probation, but he never had any contact with his probation agent, whom he should have seen about twice a month, state officials said.

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