Man to plead guilty in bid to have girl, 11, killed

Child was a witness to fatal shooting of father

April 12, 2005|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore man who was acquitted of murder charges in July has agreed to plead guilty in federal court for trying to hire someone to kill an 11-year-old witness who testified at his trial, his lawyer said yesterday.

DeAndre Whitehead, 20, is scheduled to appear Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. At the hearing, he is expected to plead guilty to one count of soliciting to commit a crime of violence, said Beth Faber, an assistant federal public defender.

The case stems from the August 2003 shooting of Russell Peterson, 47, killed outside his Southwest Baltimore rowhouse. Peterson's 10-year-old daughter witnessed the fatal shooting, authorities said. After his arrest, Whitehead tried to hire someone to kill the girl and her mother, according to prosecutors.

After he was acquitted of murder in state court, Whitehead was charged in federal court with trying to silence the witnesses.

The maximum penalty for murder-for-hire is 10 years. But in a deal reached with federal prosecutors, Whitehead will serve six years in prison for pleading guilty to one of two counts of soliciting to commit a crime of violence. Prosecutors agreed to drop the second count. Whitehead has been in custody since shortly after Peterson's killing.

"Everyone felt it was a fair and reasonable way to resolve the case so that the family doesn't have to testify," Faber said.

The U.S. attorney's office declined to comment on the case other than to confirm the guilty plea would not be official until the court hearing.

Whitehead's path to federal court has become a well-worn route for a number of witness-intimidation prosecutions. In February, federal prosecutors took over the case against five men accused of the January firebombing of the home of a North Baltimore community leader who challenged local drug dealers in Harwood.

And in an earlier case, the deaths in 2002 of seven members of the Dawson family in East Baltimore led to the federal prosecution of Darrell L. Brooks, who pleaded guilty to murder and is serving a life sentence in prison without parole. The Dawsons had made regular calls to police about illegal drug sales in their neighborhood.

This year, concern over the isssue led the General Assembly to pass a bill increasing the penalties for witness intimidation and allowing some of out-of-court statements of witnesses to be used as evidence at trials.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings also introduced two bills in Congress to beef up short-term witness-protection options for state witnesses and to funnel drug-policy money into neighborhood crime-reporting programs.

Prosecutors said the killing in which Whitehead had been charged was prompted by an argument over fake drugs between Peterson's wife, Patricia, and Whitehead. Peterson's daughter, Tashiera, said she woke up to her father yelling from her bedroom window.

Tashiera said that she followed as her father walked outside and confronted Whitehead. When her father tried to break up the fight, Tashiera told police she saw Whitehead shoot him. Police said Whitehead put out a contract on Peterson's wife and daughter shortly after he was arrested.

According to court documents, a wiretap inside the city jail recorded Whitehead giving a cellmate information about the girl's location. He also promised money and drugs for the killings.

In January 2004, Whitehead was indicted in the state system on charges that he had conspired to kill the mother and daughter, but a judge ruled that he should face those charges after he was tried in Peterson's killing.

During that trial, Whitehead's defense lawyer argued that the girl and her mother had misidentified her client. On July 14, a jury threw out all of the charges against Whitehead.

Because of evidence rules, jurors had not heard the tape recording from jail in which Whitehead tried to set up the killing of the witnesses against him.

The day of the verdict, Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy asked then-Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio to consider federal charges. Later, she dropped the state charges of solicitation to commit murder so federal prosecutors could take over the case.

In January, a relative of Tashiera's urged lawmakers in Annapolis to pass laws to strengthen protection for witnesses and the penalties for those who tried to intimidate them.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.