Jury Fails To Impose Death Penalty In 'Special' Case

July 02, 2009|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,Tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

A federal jury on Wednesday failed to agree on a death sentence, sparing the lives of two convicted killers and showing them the mercy that they denied their victims.

Melvin Gilbert, 34, and James Dinkins, 36, were each sentenced to multiple life terms. They were convicted last month of running a vast drug operation known as "Special" in Northeast Baltimore and murdering three men, including two people they thought were law enforcement cooperators - "rats," according to Gilbert.

U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz promised that the co-defendants and "the poison that they brought" would never again "be anywhere close to Baltimore."

The case was the third in the span of a few months to draw convictions for witness intimidation in Baltimore's federal court, highlighting the size of the city's problem. A 61-year-old woman was found guilty of murdering an elderly man to keep him from disclosing her financial schemes, and a 24-year-old incarcerated man was convicted of ordering a witness killing from jail using a contraband cell phone.

Dinkins and Gilbert, along with a third defendant not facing the death penalty, were convicted of killing one man, Shannon Jemmison, whom they wrongly thought was a cooperator, and another, John Dowery, because he had testified against their friends.

The men fought with another witness while the trial was going on, when U.S. marshals mistakenly put them all in the same holding cell.

In an interview, Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said witness intimidation cases are among "the most serious" his office prosecutes, and that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment.

About 4 p.m. Wednesday, jurors sent out a note from their deliberation room, saying that they could not reach a verdict. All 12 jurors would have had to agree on a death sentence. They reassembled in the courtroom, looking weary and cautious. Tears ran down the faces of some; others showed a steely fa?ade.

"These issues are so profound and so deep, there is no right answer," Motz said to them, trying to sum up a case that has gone on for weeks.

He told them of the "outrageous" insults prosecutor Kwame Manley endured from Dinkins when jurors weren't present and highlighted yet another tragic fact of life in the city: Some neighborhoods are cancerous.

Dinkins and Gilbert grew up with the same violence they doled out, products of Bartlett Avenue, a short street just east of Greenmount Avenue.

"Every child who grew up in that neighborhood is a victim," Motz said. "The last three generations are victims."

The judge dismissed the jury and asked the defendants whether they had anything to say. Gilbert declined to speak. But Dinkins, who yelled out several times during the trial, again professed his innocence.

"I'm being convicted because I refused to be an informant," he said. "It's nothing more than a modern-day lynching."

He claimed he'd been offered a deal in exchange for information against Gilbert, though Rosenstein said no offer was ever extended.

Dinkins also claimed he never killed anyone, though the mothers of the dead didn't believe him.

Cathy Hines' son was Michael Bryant, whom Dinkins killed after growing frustrated with him. She sat in the third row, her face blank. There was no closure for her; she wanted death. "I can't see my son," she said. "His child can't see him."

As people filed from the courtroom, Gilbert's attorney Archangelo Tuminelli said he, like the judge, didn't have any answers.

Until somebody comes up with some way to help those in the city's worst areas, he said, "these kinds of cases will not stop."

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