Victim describes fire attack

Harwood activist testifies in trial of 3

December 06, 2005|By MATTHEW DOLAN | MATTHEW DOLAN,SUN STAFF

Edna McAbier curled up on an upstairs sofa just after 1:30 a.m., too tired to climb into bed but unable to fall asleep.

So she was fully awake when the surprise attack against her home Jan. 15 started with loud thuds from above.

"I thought there must be bricks being dumped on my roof," said McAbier, a state worker who kept her composure on the witness stand in federal court in Baltimore yesterday. "It really scared the crap out of me."

The rain of fire that fell onto her Lorraine Avenue rowhouse in North Baltimore was no accident, prosecutors told the jury. More than six drug dealers tossed flaming gasoline-filled bottles onto McAbier's roof in order to kill her, authorities said.

The trial for three of the accused men - Nakie Harris, 30, Terrance Smith, 24, and Richard Royal, 21 - started yesterday and is expected to last about two weeks.

McAbier had enraged the men because the Harwood neighborhood activist routinely called police about drug dealers in the neighborhood, said Assistant U.S. Attorney A. David Copperthite. Most of them had sworn an allegiance to the Bloods gang, whose leader approved the firebombing, according to the prosecutor.

"This case is about intimidation," Copperthite told the jury of 10 women and six men, including alternates. "They had a problem in Edna McAbier."

Federal authorities increased security yesterday at the Lombard Street courthouse. They set up a second metal detector outside the large Courtroom 1A. Marshals temporarily confiscated cell phones from spectators and refused to let the public enter the courtroom until prosecutors had already started their opening arguments.

The heightened measures reflected the city's continuing battle with vindictive drug dealers who target the witnesses who dare to speak out against them.

Prosecutors said that Smith also participated in a video styled after the infamous Stop Snitching DVD that appeared on the city's streets late last year. In the video, Smith rapped about drug dealing. Prosecutors say they plan to use his appearance to show his ties to a criminal lifestyle.

McAbier never saw her assailants, so the case is likely to turn in part on the believability of at least three other defendants who have agreed to testify for prosecutors.

Jackie Brewington, 26, Isaac Smith, 19, and Andre Wilkins, 32, have pleaded guilty in the case and promised to take the stand in return for leniency at sentencing, Copperthite told jurors yesterday.

Another co-defendant, Shakia Watkins, was supposed to go on trial yesterday as well. Prosecutors said she aided the firebombing plot by placing a bogus call to police as a way to distract authorities. Watkins, 19, was absent from the courtroom yesterday and her attorney declined to comment.

The defense revealed little of its strategy yesterday. None of the defense attorneys asked a question of the prosecution's two witnesses and only one gave an opening argument. Attorney Charles Bernstein asked jurors to scrutinize the testimony from cooperators who have plea deals with the government and reminded them that Terrance Smith, his client, is presumed innocent.

Court papers say Harris, described by three co-defendants as a neighborhood cocaine dealer, led the group on the night of the attack. But Harris first needed approval from Smith, a reputed member of the Bloods, according to Copperthite.

On Jan. 15, Wilkins drove a white Chrysler Town & Country minivan to two gas stations and a bar to buy a six-pack of beer and gasoline, prosecutors said. Surveillance video and electronic receipts confirmed the purchases, Copperthite told jurors yesterday.

Copperthite said it was at an address 50 feet from McAbier's home that Wilkins and several others - not including Terrance Smith - emptied the bottles and refilled them with $2 worth of gasoline and affixed wicks to their tops, making five or six Molotov cocktails.

McAbier called 911 at 1:40 a.m. to report the loud noise on her roof. Liquid, she added, was burning on the pavement out front.

McAbier, a neighborhood resident for more than 30 years and an activist during the past three, said she instantly recognized the sounds as part of a pattern of intimidation launched against her.

In 2002, she began to get involved with the local community association and started an almost daily report to police about problems in Harwood. The backlash came around 2003, she said, with people mysteriously urinating on her steps and spray-painting her home.

"Then it started to get more serious," she said.

McAbier told authorities someone slashed the rear tires of her car and used Magic Markers to deface her windows. Those responsible were the same drug dealers angered by her constant and detailed reports to police about their activities, she said.

When police arrived on the night of the attack, they found shards of brown glass and two lighters near a burned patch on the ground. On the second floor, they spotted soot just below a front bay window. A city fire investigator testified yesterday that he found evidence of five Molotov cocktails - brown Coors beer bottles filled with flammable fluid and with a washcloth wick.

Immediately after the attack, McAbier said she approached her front window where the smell of gasoline lingered. She couldn't see the flames that had singed her windowsill and front stoop.

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

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