U.S. winds up its case against 3 tied to gang

Suspects are accused of killings in crack trade

March 25, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Prosecutors summed up two months of testimony in a rare federal death penalty trial yesterday, saying the evidence had painted a "devastating" case against three young Baltimore men accused of carrying out a string of shootings and homicides as they staked out territory in the city's crack cocaine trade.

Authorities said the men were part of a loose-knit and violent gang known as the Lexington Terrace Boys, a nod to the now-demolished west-side housing project where its members grew up. Among the slayings attributed to the group was the execution of one man, Robert "Snoop" McManus, to prevent him from testifying in state court about an earlier double homicide.

Another victim, Travis "Phat Harold" Burley, was a one-time member of the gang and a distant cousin to defendant Michael L. Taylor. In secretly recorded conversations that were played for the jury, Taylor discussed the death of Burley, saying at one point: "Every night I go to sleep, they just be images in my head. I can't get it out of my mind, yo."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie A. Gallagher said in closing arguments yesterday that the images Taylor recalled were the blood-splattered walls of a former family home where authorities said Burley was killed. "Those are the images he can't get out of his head -- the blood of a family member on his hands," Gallagher told jurors.

Taylor, 20, also known by the nickname "Mike Mumbles," is charged in the case along with Keon D. "Black" Moses, 21, and Aaron D. Foster, 24, also known by the street names "Turk" and "Ace."

Death penalty possible

Taylor and Moses could receive the death penalty if convicted for their alleged roles in a triple shooting Sept. 23, 2001, which left two men dead in a rowhouse basement in West Baltimore and a third man wounded, and in the subsequent shooting death of McManus, a potential witness to that crime.

Foster could receive a life sentence if convicted.

Defense attorneys for the three men are expected to present their closing arguments today in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, pressing their case that the federal drug conspiracy charges the case is built around do not fit what they have portrayed in court as a trio of independent, crack cocaine free-lancers.

Addressing jurors for more than two hours yesterday, Gallagher sought to blunt that argument.

Gallagher said the Lexington Terrace Boys might have been loosely organized and less successful than some of Baltimore's more prominent drug rings, but its members worked in concert -- sharing stash houses and guns, retaliating for alleged slights against other members, even helping pay legal bills if one member was jailed.

`Part of a conspiracy'

"Nobody is saying that these three men in the courtroom were good, or successful, drug dealers," Gallagher said. She added: "They may have wanted to be big-shot drug dealers, but they lacked the discipline to do it. ... That does not mean they weren't part of a conspiracy."

If jurors find the men guilty of the drug conspiracy charges, the panel would hear additional evidence before deliberating about a possible death sentence. The Lexington Terrace case is the first federal death penalty trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore since 1998, when a jury rejected a death sentence for convicted drug lord Anthony Jones.

In April 2002, a jury in Baltimore Circuit Court rejected state murder charges against Moses in the Sept. 23, 2001, shooting deaths of 23-year-old Ronald Harris and 30-year-old Gregory Spain. Another man, Charles Brockington, 22, was repeatedly shot but survived the same incident, which became the grim centerpiece of the current federal trial.

Authorities said Taylor killed McManus, on orders from Moses, to keep him from testifying in the state trial.

And together, Foster and Taylor are charged with attempting to intimidate another potential witness in the same case. That man, Samuel Carlos "Los" Wilder, was killed in June in a hail of bullets in a narrow alley behind the 1500 block of W. Saratoga St.

Jurors in the current trial did not hear about Wilder's killing, which has not been solved and which has not been linked to his role in the Lexington Terrace case.

Among the other homicides attributed to the Lexington Terrace Boys was the shooting in March 2002 of Vance Beasley, 32, the operator of a Baltimore hip-hop recording studio, Big League Recordings Inc. Beasley was killed at his Cockeysville apartment in what prosecutors said was a retaliation slaying -- carried out by Taylor and Foster to avenge the deaths of two associates from Lexington Terrace.

Jurors will also have to decide whether Taylor killed his cousin, 20-year-old Travis Burley.

Investigators said Burley was killed April 1, 2002, after leaving his mother's house in South Baltimore with Taylor. Burley's body was never found, but authorities said they believe he was killed in a rowhouse on North Caroline Street. That house, where Taylor's mother once lived, was set on fire April 5, 2002, and arson and homicide investigators testified that they found a blood-soaked living room floor, bloody footprints and blood splatters on the walls.

Without surprise

In closing arguments, Gallagher noted that after authorities arrested Taylor in the summer of 2002, he later recounted without surprise being told that he was being charged with murder.

"I was like, `Oh my God, they got us," Taylor is heard saying in conversations recorded by a government informant. "It's goin' down, yo."

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