`This girl is really violent'

Murder suspect signals brazen trend in Md. gangs

April 06, 2008|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun reporter

Hagerstown police figured they were searching for a witness to a murder, a 23-year-old woman who'd moved out there from Annapolis a few months earlier.

A phone call to the Annapolis Police Department changed their minds.

"I'd look at her as a suspect," Annapolis police detective David Stokes told them. Three years earlier, the woman had tried to pull a gun on him during an arrest. "And when you find her, approach with caution. This girl is really violent."

Her name is Michelle "Michelle Hell" Hebron. She is one of five women indicted by a federal grand jury as members of the Tree Top Piru gang, a set of Bloods that authorities say sold drugs in Baltimore, threatened and hurt those who opposed them and killed at least five people in the past two years.

Hebron's suspected criminal activities typify a new kind of fearlessness that investigators say they are seeing more and more in female gang members.

She stands 5-foot-3, her hair thick with long twists, but it's the scowl on her face and the swagger in her walk that the officers who have arrested her over the years remember most.

Of the 28 gang members under indictment, Hebron faces some of the most serious accusations. Authorities believe she killed the Hagerstown man because she suspected he betrayed the Bloods - and then wrote a poem about it. Months earlier, authorities allege, she shot a Tree Top member in Baltimore because she suspected he was cooperating with police. That man survived.

"Murder is necessary, but positivity is powerful," Hebron allegedly wrote in a May 30, 2007, letter to the gang leader. "I will chew a [racial slur] up then go to McDonald's and eat a double cheeseburger like it's nothing."

At her March 27 federal arraignment on racketeering charges, Hebron pleaded not guilty. She was ordered held without bail as she awaits trial and the possibility of other serious charges. Federal prosecutors say a first-degree murder indictment could come this summer - making her eligible for the death penalty.

"She is scared," said her attorney, Jensen Barber. "She is very scared, of course."

At Hebron's arraignment and detention hearing, Barber described the case against his client as "innuendo upon innuendo."

The role of the female members of Tree Top Piru - the "Pirettes," as they called themselves - surprised some investigators. The women, Hebron in particular, seemed as dangerous as the men.

Steve Gerido, an investigator with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who ran a federal wiretap investigation of the group, said the inquiry leading to the February indictment "showed how the roles of women in gangs has evolved over time."

"It was almost an equal role to the men," he said. "Hebron and other women in this gang were often asked to perform violent acts. Some of them carried the weight of the same amount of respect as the men."

The four other indicted women, though not accused of shootings, each contributed to the gang's fearsome reputation, investigators say.

Diane Kline, a Hagerstown woman, allegedly collected money and relayed messages for her boyfriend, reputed gang leader Steve Willock, as he sat behind bars in Cumberland. Police say Shaneka Penix, a Baltimore woman still on the run, sold crack cocaine and devised a plan to smuggle drugs into prison.

Tracey Whiting is accused of conspiring with other gang members to disrupt a Baltimore murder trial by intimidating a witness and talking to a juror. Court papers say Sherry Brockington requested a firearm and ordered violence against those who crossed her.

More so than any of the indicted women, Hebron has a hard edge that made her well-suited for gang life, authorities say.

Hebron, like the gang leader she regularly corresponded with in jailhouse letters, rose up in a Baltimore gang even though she was an outsider, authorities say. Hebron spent her childhood in Annapolis, and Willock grew up in the Bronx before moving to Hagerstown as a teenager.

Records show that Michelle Lenee Hebron was born in Baltimore, but, as a child, went to live with her grandmother in an Annapolis public housing project.

Hebron's mother died in Miami in May 2004, and her father lives in Virginia, she wrote in letters to judges. Her brother, in his 20s, and a teenage sister live in the Annapolis area, and a much younger sister is in foster care in Florida, according to the letters.

Relatives could not be reached for comment, but Hebron described a turbulent youth in letters from prison seeking mercy from the judicial system.

"I've been in group homes, institutions and foster homes majority of my youth," she wrote. She admits in another letter that she has problems with "impulse and anger management."

She did not finish high school and was rarely employed. Hebron is candid in the letters about her lifestyle. She wrote of being "robbed and pistol-whipped bloody," of selling drugs, of carrying a handgun she bought on the streets for protection.

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