Death penalty sought in murder

August 06, 2008|By Brent Jones and Julie Scharper | Brent Jones and Julie Scharper,Sun Reporters

Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for a 23-year-old man accused of orchestrating from prison the murder-for-hire of a Baltimore County man who had witnessed a killing in the city, according to a notice filed in U.S. District Court yesterday.

A superseding indictment alleges that Albert Byers Jr., of Baltimore, paid at least $2,500 to co-defendants to fatally shoot Carl Stanley Lackl in July 2007 outside his Rosedale home. Authorities have said Lackl had witnessed Byers shoot a man in an East Baltimore alley a year earlier.

Investigators used cell phone records to establish a link between Byers, who was in the Baltimore City Detention Center at the time, and Bloods gang members who carried out the hit, according to the indictment.

Three others charged in the case face a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Reached yesterday, Lackl's mother, Marge Shipley, said her family agreed with the U.S. attorney's office's decision to seek the death penalty.

"I don't have my son. Why should those people have theirs?" she said. "My granddaughter doesn't have a daddy any more. It's been over a year since I heard my son say 'I love you.' "

Lackl, 38, an employee of a fencing company, was standing outside his home with two little girls on the evening of July 2, 2007, when he was shot after police said he was lured outside by the gunmen, who had told him they were interested in buying a car he was trying to sell.

The past year has been painful for his family, especially his longtime girlfriend and young daughter, his mother said. "He loved his baby more than life itself," Shipley said. "She's slowly forgetting him, and that's the way it's going to be. By the time she's 10, she's going to forget all those hugs and kisses."

Lackl was taking a lunch break from work when he happened to see one man fatally shoot another in a city alley in March 2006. He cooperated with investigators and prosecutors because he believed it was his moral and civic duty, family members said.

Although the city state's attorney's office said that prosecutors warned Lackl that he could be at risk, family members said that he was not aware that he was in danger. Lackl later identified Byers as the shooter of Larry Haynes, 30, according to court documents.

Claim of innocence

William Purpura, a defense attorney who represents Byers, said yesterday that his client maintains his innocence. "We still believe the facts of this case do not merit the ultimate penalty of death," he said. "We feel confident on the issue of guilt and innocence."

Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in an interview yesterday that the decision to seek the death penalty was made by U.S. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey after a thorough review process that involved meetings with defense attorneys and prosecutors. Rosenstein added that Mukasey took into consideration the defendant's background and the circumstances of the crime.

The indictment states that the defendants and others obtained a loaded .44-caliber handgun and went to Lackl's home. Prosecutors said the suspects lured Lackl outside by pretending interest in buying a Cadillac he was selling. The callers offered him an additional $200 for the car and insisted on seeing it that evening.

Just after nightfall, one of them called Lackl, said he could not find the house and that Lackl should walk toward the street. As Lackl came forward, a dark car pulled up and a 15-year-old boy shot him three times, according to court documents.

After the shooting, the suspects met in East Baltimore, where a co-conspirator who traveled to Lackl's residence was paid for the murder on behalf of Byers, court documents say.

State charges against the alleged shooter, Johnathan Ryan Cornish, now 16, have been dropped, and he was not named in the federal indictment. Others in the case facing murder charges are Frank Keith Goodman, 22; Steven "L-Tigga" Thompson, 27; and Michael Jerome "L-Killa" Randle, 19.

It is unclear from the indictment how Byers might have learned about Lackl's role in the case. But according to the original account by Baltimore County police - who started the investigation - Byers sent a text message calling for Lackl's killing to a BlackBerry in the possession of one of the other suspects, described in court documents as a friend who had visited Byers in jail more than 20 times.

In April, Baltimore prosecutors dropped the original murder charges against Byers, saying a trial might interfere with the federal case.

Added charges

The indictment filed by federal authorities yesterday adds two counts to charges already lodged in February: charging Byers with illegally possessing a firearm on March 4, 2006, having previously been convicted of a felony crime, and use of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

Other charges from the original indictment include conspiracy to use telephones in the commission of a murder-for-hire; use of telephones in a murder-for-hire; use of a firearm in a murder; conspiracy to murder a witness; murder of a witness; and conspiracy to use a firearm in a crime of violence.

Byers' trial date is set for March 9, 2009.

Since the original indictment handed down in February, state prison authorities have renewed efforts to confiscate cell phones, including using specially trained canines.

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