A federal jury found two Baltimore men guilty Friday in the contract killing of witness Carl Stanley Lackl, bringing to justice the last of eight people - drug dealers, gang members and one nursing assistant - charged in the conspiracy, which began nearly two years ago with a text message sent from a Baltimore jail.
The jury will next decide whether to sentence Patrick Albert Byers Jr., who ordered the hit while incarcerated on murder charges, to death. His co-defendant, Frank Keith Goodman, acted as Byers' agent on the outside and faces life in prison; he will be sentenced July 17. Both men are 23.
Lackl's mother and longtime girlfriend sobbed as the guilty verdict was read. "Carl wins; God bless America," his stepfather said on the way out of the courtroom.
The late-afternoon verdict came as a surprise at the end of the day and was read before supporters of Byers and Goodman had a chance to reach the U.S. District Court House.
Byers' face remained unchanged as the foreman repeated the word "guilty" again and again, with few of the jury members looking his way. He was found guilty on all counts having to do with Lackl's murder as well as on a count of being a felon in possession of a handgun. The jury found him not guilty on a ninth count of using a gun in an unrelated drug-trafficking crime.
Goodman was found guilty of seven counts involving Lackl's death. He rubbed a hand across his face as the decision was announced, and shook his head, muttering to himself. Later, he rested his face in his hands.
"I'm disappointed," Goodman's attorney, Christopher Davis, said. "There are no winners; everyone's hurt in this case. It's sad."
A spokeswoman for the Maryland U.S. attorney's office declined to comment.
On March 4, 2006, Lackl picked Byers out of a police photo array as the man he saw running earlier that day, gun in hand, from an East Baltimore murder scene. Larry Haynes, who was suspected of killing Byers' cousins, had been shot eight times.
Byers was arrested that month, and Lackl planned to testify against him in Baltimore City Circuit Court.
But eight days before that trial was set to begin on July 10, 2007, the 38-year-old father was executed in front of his Baltimore County home. He had been lured out of the house by the killers, who told him they were interested in buying a car he was selling, then shot him three times at close range.
Investigators linked eight people to the killing, with Byers at the helm, offering $2,500 for Lackl's death after mistakenly receiving a court document containing the eyewitness' address. He used Goodman, with whom he had served prison time, as his go-between.
All of the others involved in the killing, including a 15-year-old gunman, settled their cases out of court and are expected to receive negotiated sentences up to 40 years in federal prison. Many became government witnesses against Byers and Goodman.
Byers' attorneys will take a week to prepare for the next phase of the trial, which will determine whether Byers lives or dies. New testimony will be given and witnesses called, beginning April 27. It likely will go to the jury within three days.
Byers' attorney, William Purpura, said after the ruling that he and his client were disappointed. But he said he has always considered the penalty phase of this trial to be key.
"It's life or death," he said.