Gang leader gets 35 years for conspiracy

Head of the `Hot Boys' linked to fatal gunfire at rival gang's party in 2001

Woman killed, 11 wounded

Judge appeals to city's residents to retake streets

April 19, 2003|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

As he handed down a 35-year prison term to the leader of a violent East Baltimore gang yesterday, U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz made a blunt appeal for residents to reclaim the city's most lawless neighborhoods and compared the effort in ways to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

In wide-ranging remarks from the bench, Motz said the burden of fighting violence and drugs in Baltimore must be shared by officials in positions of power as well as residents of the city's affluent suburbs and people who live on the city's drug-infested and violence-ridden streets.

"Just as Iraqis must take responsibility now for their own freedom, so must the people who live on the streets of the inner city," Motz said. He added, "We've got to work together to make the city a place where freedom can thrive and people can live happily."

Motz's comments came as he sent to prison Charles "Bok" Byers, 25, the man authorities say oversaw the violent "Hot Boys" gang and was responsible with other gang leaders for the shooting two years ago at a "Rest in Peace" party given to remember a rival gang member.

The party, on Memorial Day weekend 2001, ended in a spray of gunfire outside a rowhouse on East North Avenue. When the shooting stopped, 11 people had been wounded and one woman had been killed. She was Lakeisha Monich Moten, who was 24 and the girlfriend of one of the leaders of a gang that had encroached on the Hot Boys' turf, authorities said.

In U.S. District Court yesterday, members of Moten's family filled the courtroom and stared hard at Byers. Moten's aunt and a cousin told Motz about the deep loss to their family and confronted Byers about the deadly toll of his drug running.

"She didn't do anything except be a girlfriend to someone you despised," Michelle Shephard, Moten's cousin, said. "But you don't care. You're a cold-blooded person with a bad reputation. ... Aren't you sorry?"

"Yes, I am sorry," Byers shot back from his seat at the defense table, a rare courtroom exchange between victim and defendant. "I had no insight to what happened. I had no knowledge of what happened. I had nothing to do with what happened to Keisha."

Byers was one of a dozen young men from the gang indicted last year on federal narcotics and weapons charges. He and most of the other defendants avoided a lengthy federal trial and possible life sentences by pleading guilty to drug conspiracy charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John F. Purcell said the string of convictions and long sentences should embolden residents in tough neighborhoods to stop tolerating drug violence.

"Don't take money from these individuals," Purcell said. "Don't condone their behavior, whether explicitly or implicitly."

Defense attorney Timothy J. Sullivan made a similar plea as he argued that the city's problem stretched well beyond Byers and the Hot Boys gang.

"Mr. Byers is not a lone poster boy for the pandemonium that is ravaging those neighborhoods," Sullivan said in court. "He is not the be-all, end-all of all that is wrong with this city."

Motz said that both attorneys made important points. In his remarks, the judge -- a former U.S. attorney and a Reagan appointee who is in his 18th year on the federal bench -- said no single prosecution or prison term can provide the kind of deep, complex repair that is needed in the city.

"No amount of years -- indeed, even capital punishment doesn't bring back the lives of those who were taken," Motz said. "The best way to memorialize ... the lives of those who were lost is for all of us to do something about it."

Motz said city residents must have greater trust in police and reach an "honest acceptance of a deep cultural problem" in Baltimore's violence-torn streets.

"What kind of place are we tolerating?" Motz said.

As he closed his remarks, Motz recounted how the young city men who come before him accused of violent drug crimes almost uniformly come from tough streets with few opportunities and little guidance.

"Where do they turn? Where are their fathers? There's an honest question to ask, and it's one that people have to try to come up with an answer to," Motz said. The judge paused and looked at the silenced courtroom then added: "That's all I have to say."

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