James "Miami" Dinkins refused to testify during the life-or-death sentencing phase of his trial Monday, just as he chose not to speak during the fact-finding stage, in which he was found guilty of essentially being the hit man for a major drug operation in Northeast Baltimore.
But he made sure the jury heard him.
"I'm innocent," he cried out from the defense table, claiming that the government wanted him to become an informant in exchange for his freedom, but he didn't take the deal.
Attorneys presented closing arguments in the sentencing phase of the weeks-long trial Monday. The jury must now determine whether Dinkins and his co-defendant, Melvin Gilbert, 34, are imprisoned for life or executed.
Collectively, the defendants were convicted of drug-trafficking crimes and murdering three men, two of them because they were thought to be law enforcement cooperators, so-called "snitches." The third man was killed, according to testimony, because he annoyed Dinkins.
The prosecution built its case on the notion that the men ran a major drug-dealing operation, selling vast quantities of heroin under the name "Special." They described a third defendant, who's not facing the death penalty, as a sort of low-level worker; Dinkins as the killer for hire; and Gilbert as the head, the "CEO."
"We are seeking the death penalty because Melvin Gilbert ran a violent drug organization that peddled poison in the streets. He personally beat, intimidated and murdered individuals who tried to stop him," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kwame Manley told the jury.
Gilbert's attorney, Archangelo Tuminelli, said his client was never the big operator the government claims, he never made millions, and he never had much of a chance, growing up in dangerous and neglected areas of Baltimore, surrounded by drugs, guns, violence and prostitution.
Gilbert's parents were teens, unable to care for themselves much less a child, Tuminelli said, and he fell in with a bad crowd before he was 12. A third of his childhood friends have been murdered.
Those things argue for life, Tuminelli said, beseeching the jury to "consider, if nothing else, Mr. Gilbert's family."
Though Gilbert, 34, is alleged to be the operation's kingpin, Dinkins, 36, was drawn as the more dangerous of the pair, a man who allegedly said he wanted to be the best killer in Baltimore. In a poem he wrote, titled "Russian Roulette," Dinkins talks of being a big fish in the pond, the "last and only black don."
Manley quoted from Dinkins' works throughout the prosecution's closing, choosing sections that backed his argument. "There are no rules," one states. "My freedom's not something that's sold," says another.
The quotes set Dinkins off.
"Read the whole poem," he yelled, daring Manley. "You a black man sitting up here and lying to 12 people."
It was at least the third outburst Dinkins has made in the courtroom, but the first to take place when the jury was present. He called the prosecutor a coward and later, after the jury was dismissed for a break, called him the N-word repeatedly.
Manley said the outcry showed a lack of remorse. Dinkins' attorney, Gary Proctor, said it was understandable.
"He didn't threaten anyone, and he didn't get up out of his chair," Proctor said, asking the jury to imagine the difficulty of sitting in that courtroom poker-faced.
Proctor, too, blamed Dinkins' upbringing for his situation. Half of his siblings are dead, he was diagnosed with multiple mental health problems as a child, shuffled from institution to institution, abandoned by his mother, and disabled, with speech and hearing problems.
"All roads led to here or dead," Proctor said, going on to quote everyone from John Donne to Jesus in hoping to sway the jury toward a life sentence.
"We're in the final chapter, this book doesn't have a happy ending," he said. "The question is how sad [it's going to be]."