Plea deals in firebombing case

3 men charged in Jan. attack on activist to aid case against 4 others

November 20, 2005|By MATTHEW DOLAN | MATTHEW DOLAN,SUN REPORTER

Federal prosecutors have secretly obtained guilty-plea agreements from three of the seven men charged in the January firebombing of a community activist's home in North Baltimore, according to documents reviewed by The Sun.

The agreements with Jackie Brewington, Isaac Smith and Andre Wilkins require that they cooperate fully in the government's case against the four remaining defendants, who are scheduled to be tried next month.

Together with transcripts of federal grand jury testimony, the plea agreements describe how a group suspected of drug dealing and gang activity tried to burn down Harwood Community Association President Edna McAbier's rowhouse.

One of those charged lived near the victim's block, knowing her well enough to call her "Miss Edna," court papers show.

The Jan. 15 fire on Lorraine Avenue drew wide attention in a city struggling to curb crime when witnesses are often intimidated and scared to come forward. Court papers say the suspects were furious at McAbier because she routinely called police about drug dealing in the neighborhood.

Nakie Harris, described by his co-defendants as a neighborhood cocaine dealer, led the group on the night of the attack, court papers said. But Harris first needed approval from Terrance Smith, a reputed member of the Bloods gang, according to the court papers.

Federal prosecutors have told defense attorneys that they have grave concerns about the potential for witness tampering. As prosecutors handed over evidence to defense attorneys in recent weeks, they instructed them not to give copies of the plea agreements to their clients. Typically, such agreements remain secret until a defendant testifies at trial or appears before the judge to enter a plea.

The agreements, which were signed in May, indicate that Isaac Smith, 26, Brewington, 19, and Wilkins, 32, will plead guilty to witness tampering and use of an explosive device. They could receive up to 20 years in prison on the witness-intimidation charge. In addition, each of the three will face no less than 10 additional years in prison on the explosive-device charge.

"It's a standard U.S. attorney cooperation agreement," said Isaac Smith's attorney, Arcangelo M. Tuminelli, who expects his client to receive leniency for pleading guilty and helping prosecutors. "He was just one of a number of participants involved."

Trial to begin Dec. 5

Prosecutors agreed to drop one of the most serious charges - use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence - that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison. They will also allow the three men to argue that they played a minor role in the crime, a step seen by defense attorneys as a major concession to the cooperators.

A joint federal trial for the four remaining defendants - Terrance Smith, 24, Shakia Watkins, 19, Richard Royal, 21, and Harris, 30 - is scheduled to start Dec. 5 and is expected to last two weeks.

Attorneys for the defendants declined to comment on the case. But reached by phone, two of the three attorneys representing Brewington, Isaac Smith and Wilkins confirmed that their clients intended to plead guilty.

U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein declined to comment on the case.

According to the court papers, drug dealing in Harwood was overseen by a local unit of the Bloods known as "7 Deuce 1." Its leader, Terrence Smith, also known as "Buck," reportedly ruled by fear.

"And what would happen to you if you did something you weren't supposed to do or that Buck didn't like?" Assistant U.S. Attorney A. David Copperthite asked before the grand jury, according to a transcript reviewed by The Sun.

"He'd get somebody to beat you up or he'd get - he'd get you killed," Isaac Smith replied.

Part of the initiation into the local Bloods gang included a ritual known as "31 Seconds." This involved five people beating up the new recruit for just over a half-minute to test stamina, according to the court papers.

Before the Lorraine Avenue fire, Royal, Wilkins, Harris, Antonio Newsome and Isaac Smith met with Terrance Smith, court papers say.

Harris "has to go to Buck and ask permission," Isaac Smith testified before the grand jury in June.

"To do this firebombing?" Copperthite asked.

"For us to do it, yes," Isaac Smith replied.

On Jan. 15, Wilkins drove a white Chrysler Town & Country minivan to two gas stations to buy a six-pack of beer and gasoline, according to court papers.

The group gathered at the rowhouse of Wilkins' girlfriend in the 300 block of E. 27th St. There they emptied the bottles and refilled them with gasoline and affixed wicks to their tops, making five or six Molotov cocktails, according to the court papers.

That night, they left the basement, covered their faces with scarves and approached McAbier's home. Several men went to the front, and others took positions behind the house.

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