The leader of a Baltimore gang will spend the next 80 years in federal prison for masterminding a firebombing plot against the home of a North Baltimore community leader, a judge ruled yesterday.
"This kind of violence can't be tolerated," U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz said at the sentencing.
Terrence Smith, 24, received the longest prison sentence of the three men who have been tried and convicted in the witness-intimation case. Smith's lengthy criminal history includes arrests on drug dealing charges and two murder counts. He is scheduled to stand trial on one of the murder charges next month in state court.
"I'm not no evil person," Smith said yesterday, addressing the court dressed in a bright green plaid shirt and pressed jeans.
Behind him sat his tearful mother, who insisted that the charges against her son had been trumped up by other defendants worried about their futures.
"Your honor, my son did not throw a bomb at her house," Kim Tate said of the firebombing of Harwood Community Association President Edna McAbier on Jan. 15, 2005.
Nakie Harris, a 30-year-old convicted drug dealer who was angry about the activist's calls to police, has been sentenced to 60 years in prison. Richard Royal, 21, received the same sentence for buying beer bottles that became the flaming Molotov cocktails thrown onto the rowhouse.
Prosecutors said Smith ruled the local drug trade. He approved the firebombing plot after ruling out another suggestion to kill McAbier with a shotgun, according to testimony at trial. McAbier escaped the firebombing unharmed.
Smith's attorney, Charles Bernstein, said he plans to appeal the conviction, arguing that authorities improperly charged his client. At issue is whether the law requires prosecutors to show that the victim planned to call federal authorities about the harassment she faced in the neighborhood before the firebombing.
Otherwise, the case should have remained in state court, Bernstein said. Motz allowed government lawyers to reopen their case and allow more testimony after Bernstein raised the issue.
"The appeal is an important one because it raises the issue of federalism," Bernstein said. "Is every $100 arson going to be puffed up into a federal case?"
Other co-defendants, Jackie Brewington, Andre Watkins and Isaac Smith, pleaded guilty to witness tampering and use of fire and explosives to commit a felony before Smith's trial and could receive a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. Shakia Watkins pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit witness tampering and could get a five-year term. Another defendant, Cedrick Bowman, 24, was indicted Dec. 13 but has not been tried.
Violent retaliation against witnesses continues to be a problem in the city. State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy is pushing for legislative changes to make it easier for prosecutors to introduce evidence of witness intimidation.
McAbier, according to several neighbors, is an inspiring, outgoing leader who devoted herself to her neighborhood.
Assistant U.S. Attorney A. David Copperthite said in court yesterday that McAbier left her neighborhood and stopped working because she was fearful after the firebombing. "Smith stole this woman's life," Copperthite told the judge yesterday.