His hands freshly uncuffed, Kevin Gary took his seat at the defense table yesterday wearing a maroon prison jumpsuit, its color similar to the burgundy favored by the Tree Top Piru Bloods gang.
His infamous red-tinted contact lenses were gone, but the tattoos below his eyes remained - a small star under the right; the initials "B.G.," for Baby Gangsta, under the left. "Piru," a reference to his gang, is tattooed on a forearm; inked headstones honor dead friends.
His attorney, Christopher Davis, shoved papers toward him, a plea agreement and statement of facts: "Kevin, you got to start signing, man."
Gary, 27, pleaded guilty yesterday in Baltimore federal court to "conspiracy to conduct and participate in the activities of a racketeering enterprise" - essentially guilty to being a gang member and all that entails: beatings, murders, drug trafficking, witness intimidation, illegal weapons possession, robberies.
He is one of 25 Tree Top Piru members charged as the result of a long-term investigation conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Baltimore state's attorney's office and the U.S. attorney's office.
Four of the others charged, ages 21 through 32, have also pleaded guilty and received sentences of between nine and 25 years. The rest are awaiting trial.
Under the agreement, the Maryland U.S. attorney's office will recommend 30 years in prison at Gary's sentencing in March, though he is facing a maximum of life. The U.S. attorney general could still decide that the government should pursue the death penalty, which would void yesterday's plea.
Gary's voice was low as he answered U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr.'s questions. Yeah, yeah, yeah, he repeated. "Yeah," he's guilty. "Yeah," he was already on probation when he was charged. "Yeah," he's satisfied with his attorney. "Yeah," that's his signature.
Last year, Gary talked with The Baltimore Sun at length about his gang, a rare public acknowledgement of an often shadowy world. The Tree Top Piru subset developed from the Los Angeles Bloods decades ago, spreading throughout the country. It first became established in Maryland from within the Washington County Detention Center.
Gary grew up in Baltimore, first selling drugs at 15. He was often arrested and in and out of lockup. He joined the Tree Top Piru in jail. They're a "movement," he said last year, providing needed structure for young people and uplifting communities.
His younger brother was killed while a gang member. Gary ordered a hit on the alleged murderer, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason M. Weinstein. Gary's family denied that allegation.
Sun reporter Annie Linskey contributed to this article.