U.S. case said to depend on 4 linked witnesses

Prosecutors allege murder-for-hire scheme


Four cooperating witnesses hold the key to whether two Baltimore men should be found guilty of murder-for-hire, lawyers in the case told a federal jury in closing arguments yesterday.

Prosecutors insisted that Solothal "Itchy Man" Thomas and an accomplice fatally shot a Milford Mill man 15 times nearly five years ago in retaliation for a robbery of one of the city's most notorious drug dealers.

The dealer, Tyree Stewart, and three of his underlings reached plea agreements with prosecutors and testified at Thomas' trial about details of the killing.

Defense attorneys called the four witnesses "liars, murderers and deal-seekers" who had committed heinous crimes and had lied to investigators, prosecutors and a judge.

The cooperating witnesses, according to defense attorney Teresa Whalen, would "lie to just about anybody if it benefits" them.

But prosecutors defended their witnesses, saying that such drug conspiracy cases often require the help of those who have committed horrible crimes.

"If you prosecute the devil, you have to go to Hell for the witnesses," Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea L. Smith told the jury.

At the heart of the case is the shooting death Oct. 2, 2001, of Jesse Williams, a reformed drug dealer who prosecutors say robbed Thomas years earlier.

Thomas was once considered one of the most dangerous men in Baltimore and an alleged hit man for marijuana kingpin Stewart.

Stewart reportedly controlled a drug empire that grossed $52 million during its existence.

Thomas has been accused of two killings and 12 attempted killings but had either won acquittals or pleaded guilty to lesser charges and received relatively short sentences.

But his latest court appearance in U.S. District Court turned into a disappearing act. Using an unusual and discredited legal theory, Thomas and co-defendant Eduado S. Countess argued that the federal courts had no jurisdiction over them.

The case marks at least the seventh time a prisoner from the state's maximum-security prison in Baltimore has tried to argue that the federal courts do not have the right to try him.

When the two men protested in court, the judge ordered them out of the courtroom for their trial. Their attorneys have argued their defense without them.

Jury deliberations are scheduled to begin this morning. If found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, Thomas and Countess could spend the rest of their lives in prison.


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