Would-be hit man testifies he was asked to kill child

Defendant's cellmate says he reported offer instead

July 13, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

The act of killing a 10-year-old witness was too heinous to carry out, even as a favor for another heroin dealer, according to testimony yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Would-be hit man Byron James testified that he went to police with the jailhouse request from DeAndre Whitehead, 19, who is now on trial for first-degree murder.

Whitehead is accused of killing Russell Peterson, 47, after arguing with Peterson's wife over a $10 drug sale in August last year. Prosecutors say Whitehead then asked James, his cellmate at the city jail, to kill the two eyewitnesses to the murder - Peterson's wife, Patricia, and their daughter, Tashiera, 11.

"He said, `If you take care of this for me by killing the girl, I'll give you money and be in debt to you, in terms of running drugs or whatever,'" James testified. "Then I realized he was talking about a little girl."

Payment for killing the girl and her mother would be in several installments of "a couple of hundred dollars," James said.

Defense lawyer Marci Tarrant Johnson told the jury that her client did not kill Peterson or solicit the killings of his wife and daughter. On cross-examination, she called James a "snitch."

James testified that he and Whitehead were rival heroin dealers in Southwest Baltimore, but that they often looked out for one another on the street.

James has an agreement with prosecutors that he will serve a maximum of 10 years in prison for several drug charges in exchange for his testimony against Whitehead, he said.

The defense attorney asked James if he "snitched" on Whitehead to avoid a lengthy jail sentence.

"When I gave my statement to police, my main concern was for the little girl. Period," James responded. "I put my life out there for a little girl I didn't know."

James described to the jury an intricate way in which Whitehead proposed to pass along the information about where the girl and her mother lived.

Whitehead was going to write a letter to James mentioning the name of a baby, which would be the name of the street where Tashiera and her mother lived, James said. The number of the house would be written at the top of the paper in the margin.

Tashiera testified Friday that she saw Whitehead shoot her father on a Southwest Baltimore street after her father stepped into an argument between her mother and Whitehead.

Patricia Peterson told the jury Friday that Whitehead, a heroin dealer who sometimes sold crack cocaine, had sold her fake cocaine. When she confronted Whitehead about the drugs, the two began to argue, she said.

Russell Peterson came out of his house, in the 800 block of Carroll St., to find out what the noise was about and was shot four times, Patricia Peterson testified.

Tashiera and her mother separately picked out Whitehead's picture in a police lineup.

A neighbor who lived near the Petersons, Sylvia Ashby, testified yesterday that she heard shots in the neighborhood then saw Whitehead running past her house the night of the killing.

The defense yesterday brought its first witness, Donald Brown, who testified that he has known Whitehead almost his entire life. When the defense lawyer asked him if he saw Whitehead the night of the killing, Brown said, "I can't remember."

Johnson became visibly frustrated and said she had no further questions.

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