Murder On Call

The Cell Phone Calls Bounced From The Drug-dealing Streets Of Baltimore To The City Jail To A Home In Rosedale To Arrange The Killing Of A Witness To Murder

April 26, 2009|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,

Anyone looking for Marcus Antwan Pearson knew to find him on the edge of Normal Avenue, a small, hopeless stretch of one-way street pointing toward Harford Road in North Baltimore.

Here, he dealt crack cocaine alongside other young men in T-shirts and baggy jeans, red bandannas hanging like flags from their back pockets. In a day, he could make $1,700, which he spent on cheap hotels and feel-good highs from Ecstasy, marijuana and women.

Pearson had grown up tall - 6-foot-2 - and narrow in East Baltimore, where he was born. He never held a real job and was kicked out of high school in his senior year. At age 26, he didn't have a driver's license or his own place to live.

But he was a Westside Pasadena Denver Lane Blood with rank, a sort of gang middle-manager known as an OYG or Original Young Gangsta. Blood brothers looked up to him. Teenage Baby Gangstas and Tiny Baby Gangstas he could control.

Pearson fell in with the other dealers hustling and hassling that fateful Monday - July 2, 2007 - until the guy in the black T-Bird with the black rims rolled up. Pearson was asked about following through on the job they had discussed a few days earlier, the one that paid well.

$2,500 to murder a trial witness?

Hell yeah, as long as the money was for real.

Pearson took a phone number the driver offered and dialed Patrick Albert Byers Jr. in the city jail. The job was for Byers - the money was meant to silence a witness in his impending trial - and Pearson wanted him to confirm the payoff. A brief conversation set the murder in motion: witness Carl Lackl was as good as dead.

On Monday, a federal jury in Baltimore will begin the process of deciding whether to sentence Byers to death for ordering the hit that Pearson and his crew carried out, a conspiracy that included eight people. Byers was convicted of the contract killing nine days ago.

It happened like this, according to testimony, interviews, attorney statements, archival reports and court records:

Contraband phone

Pearson's call didn't go far that summer day. It traveled a mile and a half into the Baltimore City Detention Center, where 22-year-old Patrick Byers had been locked up on murder charges for more than a year. His trial was eight days away.

Like so many of the 40,000 inmates moved through that jail each year, Byers had access to a contraband cell phone that had been smuggled in, a Nextel Direct Connect that he used to call his grandma, girlfriends and anyone else he could think of to pass the time.

The detention center is one of the nation's largest pretrial jails, filled mostly by young black men like Byers. There isn't much to him. He's about 5 feet 6 inches tall, with a medium build and bad skin. But he has presence: It's clear in his stride, in his face-changing grin, in the way he looks people straight in the eye. Relatives are ready to lie for him, and friends will stake their lives on his.

He was raised by his elderly grandma and has three children already. His mother is hooked on heroin, an addict like her six siblings, five of whom are now dead. His father spent most of Byers' childhood in federal prison, and when he got out, partnered with his 15-year-old son and taught the boy how to sell dope.

The intersection of Jefferson St. and N. Montford Ave., a few blocks north of Patterson Park, was Byers' corner, where he ran his drug operation Saturday through Tuesday most weeks.

That's also where a local drug dealer was gunned down on March 4, 2006, shot five times in the head and several more times in the body. The man crumpled to the ground in front of the Dalite Food Market. Rumor was that he'd had a hand in the recent slayings of Byers' cousins.

Two men later identified Byers as the shooter. But one recanted, signing a document for Byers' defense team that he'd lied. The second witness, Lackl, was sticking to his story and planned to testify.

Without Lackl, the case was weak.

As his trial neared, Byers found out where the witness lived through a defense subpoena, which he hid in a red cracker box in the jail. He gave the Rosedale address to a friend, who drove by the house and spotted a phone number for "Carl" on a For Sale sign in the passenger window of a 1987 Cadillac.

The number was passed on to Pearson. At 3:46 p.m. on July 2, 2007, he used his personal cell phone to call it.

On a drug run

A woman answered the phone at Lackl's home and talked to a young man for four minutes about the car for sale. Carl was handling it, so she said to call back after he got home from work, around 6 p.m.

Lackl, 38, had left near dawn that day, as usual, for his job with Dundalk's Olympic Fence Company. He'd been there almost 20 years, working six or seven days a week, despite struggling with a heroin addiction.

Soon he was scheduled to testify in State of Maryland v. Patrick Albert Byers Jr. - all because he'd gone on a drug run more than a year earlier, looking to buy crack for himself and heroin for a friend who was with him.

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