Killers try to block closing arguments

Jury to begin deliberating death penalty phase today

April 28, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Two West Baltimore men facing a possible federal death sentence for their roles in a murderous drug ring made a rarely heard request yesterday: They told a judge that they did not want their attorneys to make closing arguments that could persuade the jury to spare their lives.

"I just want to rest my case right now," defendant Michael L. Taylor, 20, told U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake moments before defense lawyers were scheduled to address the jury. "It's my decision, my life. I don't want to put on no more evidence."

Taylor's co-defendant, Keon D. Moses, 21, agreed. He told Blake, simply: "I [don't] want to put no more evidence on."

Blake, who has presided over the nearly four-month trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, allowed defense attorneys to overrule their clients' unexpected request.

"It is up to your lawyers to decide issues like this," Blake told the two defendants from the bench. "In their judgment, it would be a bad mistake -- and I agree with them -- to say nothing after the government has presented a closing argument."

The defendants' brief statements were made outside the presence of the jury. Defense attorneys said they were unsure what prompted the unusual request, but it echoed much of the fatalism of the streets that pervaded the crimes in the men's case.

Taylor, also known as "Mike Mumbles," and Moses, nicknamed "Black," were convicted this month on federal drug conspiracy charges and firearms violations in connections with the deaths of three men -- including one victim, Robert "Snoop" McManus, who was killed to prevent his testimony in a double murder case.

Authorities say Taylor and Moses were part of a violent West Baltimore gang known as the Lexington Terrace Boys for the west-side public housing complex where its members grew up. In court records, prosecutors have said the group was responsible between 1999 and 2002 for as many as a dozen homicides as its members staked out territory in the city's crack cocaine trade.

In her closing argument yesterday morning, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Gallagher asked the jury to deliver the death penalty, saying Taylor and Moses had subverted the justice system by killing McManus and intimidating other witnesses.

"They were not seeking just to take a life, they were seeking to subvert the criminal justice system by taking the life of a witness to prevent him from testifying at trial," Gallagher said.

The jury that convicted Taylor and Moses now must decide whether to recommend a sentence of death or life in prison. The panel is expected to begin its deliberations today.

When it was clear yesterday that the judge would allow defense attorneys to present closing arguments, Moses made a second request --- asking to limit defense attorney Arcangelo M. Tuminelli's remarks to details about Moses' life, not his crimes.

"I don't want him to talk about no more murders -- just put on the mitigating factors, and that's it," Moses said.

Nevertheless, Tuminelli argued to jurors that it was unclear whether Moses was the triggerman in any of the fatal shootings attributed to him. He also asked for mercy.

"This kid wasn't dealt much in life," Tuminelli told jurors. "And the little bit that's left in it, I ask you to spare."

Attorneys for both defendants said the men's hardscrabble childhood in one of Baltimore's violent and troubled public housing complexes left little chance that they would find a life other than crime.

"He had no hope that he would ever succeed, because no one had ever succeeded," Robert Waldman, one of Taylor's attorneys, said in closing arguments. "So what did he see as choices? He saw the corner."

Taylor's other lawyer, Robert W. Biddle, told jurors that a death sentence is not necessary to ensure justice in the case and said it would not deter other young men in the drug trade, who accept death at a young age as an occupational hazard.

"The likelihood of an early death hasn't deterred anyone in this neighborhood," Biddle said. "Further bloodshed will not solve anything."

In her closing argument, Gallagher recited the names of eight murder victims, saying many of those men left behind young children -- "another generation" that faces the same troubled, fatherless future that defense attorneys have argued damaged Taylor and Moses.

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