Don Papa's real name is Shaidon Emanuel Blake, and depending on whether one believes the police or him, he is either an out-of-town hit man for a gang or an opportunist lured by the city's desperate heroin users.
A portrait of the 35-year-old California resident, whose murder trial continues today in Baltimore Circuit Court, has emerged in interviews with homicide detectives found in the thick court file and in a letter he wrote to The Sun from his jail cell.
Blake denies that he bound, tortured, burned and suffocated Terrance Randolph, 19, in a West Baltimore house a year ago this month. But in court documents, he admits he was drawn to the city's lucrative drug culture.
"Pennsylvania Avenue is a freaking gold mine," he said to police, according to court papers. He boasted that he made $180,000 selling drugs there one night.
"This is the heroin capital of America, ain't no more dope sold nowhere than right there on Pennsylvania Avenue. It's the largest open air drug market in the world for heroin," he said.
As an out-of-town gang member, Blake's presence in the city signals a troubling development to police and prosecutors, who say they are worried about the growing gang activity in the city.
Authorities say more than 2,500 suspected gang members are in in Baltimore, hundreds of them affiliating themselves with groups more commonly found on the West Coast, such as the Bloods and the Crips.
Police documents describe Blake as a member of the Bounty Hunter Bloods, a fearsome group with roots in Los Angeles's Nickerson Gardens housing project whose members go into gang-infested areas and determine who on the streets is a real Blood and who is pretending.
The true Bloods pay tribute to California dons and know the required hand signals and gang codes. The impostors flash red bandanas, or "flags," but are not affiliated with a national group. Repeatedly claiming a false affiliation can be a death sentence.
Robert L. Dohony, a Baltimore homicide detective, referred in court papers to Don Papa as "Triple O.G.," which means "triple original gangster," a high rank among the Bloods.
Dennis J. Laye, Blake's court-appointed lawyer, said he doubts that his client is a high-ranking gangster.
"There are a lot of people who want to be big shots," he said. "If this guy is so trusted, and he gets so caught up in this [killing], the Bloods won't at least hire him a lawyer?"
Laye also disputed his client's own claims about involvement in the drug trade, pointing out that Blake does not have drug charges on his record. "When he says he's all this stuff, I don't believe him," Laye said.
Blake got in touch with The Sun by answering a letter written to another inmate at the Central Booking and Intake Center. A reporter showed the letter to Blake's lawyer during a break in court proceedings yesterday. The attorney handed it to Blake, who acknowledged having written it.
In that polite and neatly printed four-page letter, Blake said he is from the Watts section of Los Angeles and has been involved with gangs since 1981.
Through his lawyer, Blake clarified that is he originally from Baltimore and grew up in Watts and Miami. Since 1981, he said, he has lived mostly in Nickerson Gardens, a public housing development in Watts.
In 2004, about 400 Los Angeles police officers swarmed Nickerson Gardens looking for Bounty Hunter Bloods, according to the Los Angeles Times. George Gascon, then assistant police chief, is quoted in the article describing the Hunters as "one of the most violent gangs in the history of the city."
Raymond Kelly, a witness in the Baltimore murder case and the owner of the home where Randolph was killed, told police that Blake was sent to Baltimore to organize and collect dues from the Bloods. But Blake dismissed Baltimore gang members in the letter to The Sun.
"I can tell you that these gangs here are not even Bloods," the letter said. "These are a bunch of Internet surfers. What I'm saying is, none of these gangs are in allegiance with an official Blood set."
Blake determined that fake Bloods in Baltimore include a group called the Locust Park Piru, according to an account in court documents from Jordanna Wagner, another witness in the murder case.
Real Bloods in the city included groups called Family Over Everything and Insane Red Devils, she said in court documents.
In the letter to The Sun, Blake admits being "in association with the gangs" and describes a need for grassroots programs mediating between warring groups. Blake said he offered to be a street mentor to troubled youths but was rebuffed.
He wrote that he came to Baltimore because one of his nephews was "caught up in the false propaganda" regarding the Bloods.
Because he is from California, city homicide detectives mistakenly view him as the "King of the Bloods" and have charged him in a killing he did not commit, he wrote.