Murder suspects never conspired, lawyers say

Attorneys say 3 men were independent drug dealers

March 26, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Their clients might have sold drugs and slung guns, but attorneys for three men accused of operating a violent West Baltimore crack cocaine ring told a jury yesterday that the federal case against them fails because the young defendants never banded together in an organized conspiracy.

The distinction is an important one in the federal death penalty case involving the so-called Lexington Terrace Boys. The group, named for the now-razed public housing complex where its members grew up, is accused of carrying out a string of shootings and at least six homicides as its members staked out territory in the neighborhood drug trade.

The conspiracy count allowed U.S. prosecutors to try in federal court murder counts that in some instances had failed in state court. But defense attorneys said the charge does not fit what they described as a trio of independent operators, who worked for no one and were affiliated only by their ties to the Lexington Terrace complex.

If jurors reject the conspiracy charge, the other key charges in the case also would fall.

Attorney William B. Purpura, who represents defendant Aaron D. Foster, 24, acknowledged that a decision to acquit would not be easy after two months of trial testimony about a series of violent and bloody encounters. But he said it would be correct.

"As difficult as that decision will be, and it will be difficult, you will conclude that the conspiracy as charged ... is non-existent," Purpura said.

Foster is charged in the case with Michael L. Taylor, 20, and Keon D. Moses, 21.

Closing arguments are expected to conclude today, and the jury could begin deliberations Monday.

Taylor and Moses face a possible death sentence for their alleged roles in a triple shooting Sept. 23, 2001, that left two men dead in a rowhouse basement in West Baltimore and a third man wounded, and in the subsequent death of a potential witness to that crime.

Moses was acquitted in April 2002 in Baltimore Circuit Court on state murder charges in the triple shooting. In court yesterday, his attorney said Moses did not fire any of the fatal shots. Attorney Arcangelo M. Tuminelli told jurors the more important question was whether the underlying drug conspiracy existed as charged. Without that, Tuminelli said, "the entire case against Keon Moses collapses. If there is no conspiracy, there is no conviction."

Tuminelli suggested Moses could face state charges for some of the other violent acts alleged by federal prosecutors, including the fatal shooting of potential witness Robert "Snoop" McManus.

In the current case, Moses is accused along with Taylor in McManus' death Feb. 22, 2002. Taylor's lead attorney, Robert W. Biddle, said the government's circumstantial case surrounding the shooting had failed.

"Quite simply, the evidence has shown that he didn't do it," Biddle said.

At trial, prosecutors introduced as evidence a letter that Moses wrote to Taylor while jailed and awaiting trial in the double murder case. Moses referred to "S - - - P" in the letter, writing: "His statements could hurt me, dog. I don't gotta say it, you know what I mean."

Prosecutors said the instruction was plain: Kill Snoop.

Biddle countered that an envelope found with the letter had a postmark date of Feb. 22, 2002 - the same day McManus was killed. He also noted that McManus had other enemies, pointing to the testimony of a woman who sold drugs in the neighborhood and who said McManus had been in trouble the day he died for allegedly pocketing profits.

In daylong closing arguments, defense lawyers also said prosecutors had built their case around the word of untrustworthy informants. Purpura's co-counsel, Teresa Whalen, said the government had shown only the hard-scrabble life that exists in the troubled West Baltimore neighborhood where the Lexington Terrace high rises once loomed.

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