Twists, turns as new charges filed in city murder case

Court records indicate gang involvement, intimidation at heart of changing stories

May 10, 2010|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

The stabbing death of 21-year-old Gerrod Finch last year in West Baltimore may be a perfect example of how a case is far from closed after police make an arrest.

When police got to the scene June 30, 2009, they found a blood trail leading from a vehicle and Finch lying face up. Girlfriend Tanaya Salter said the pair got into an argument in the 600 block of Wheeler Ave. that caught the attention of some nearby men, who surrounded Finch and stabbed him.

But detectives noticed inconsistencies between Salter's account and that of other witnesses. Salter waived her rights and signed a taped statement, confessing that she stabbed Finch as he struck her during an alcohol-fueled argument inside the vehicle.

Authorities weren't sure at first if the new account — involving allegations of domestic violence and self-defense — merited criminal charges at all. But they would charge Salter with manslaughter, saying she had an opportunity to leave the argument but instead escalated it, "which inevitably caused the death of Mr. Finch," Detective Michael Moran wrote in charging documents.

Now, there's been another twist in the case. Salter has been cleared. And three men, at least one of whom police say has ties to the Bloods gang, have been indicted in the killing.

The current account is more similar to the original: Police say Derrean "Dizzy" Mills, 17, Montell "Cannibal" Mills, 17, and Mishael Belcher, 20, approached Finch's vehicle while he and Salter were arguing and assaulted him. Belcher is accused of stabbing Finch after he got out of the vehicle.

An indictment is often only the beginning of a process that can take months or even years to meander through the city's clogged court system. During that time, authorities must pursue new leads and manage reluctant witnesses as pressure is applied on the streets.

What changed in the Finch case? That was not immediately clear from court records, though charging documents show that witnesses to the stabbing were feeling the squeeze: A young witness called detectives after she was attacked at a downtown bus stop by a group of people she says are members of the Tree Top Piru set of the Bloods gang who had been attempting to intimidate her to change her testimony.

About 6 p.m. April 11, the woman was at a bus stop in the 100 block of E. Lombard St., a block north of the Inner Harbor, when she said Derrean Mills approached her and waved over three young girls, records show.

One of them, 14-year-old Shontrece Turner, is accused of blocking the witness from getting onto the bus and said, "I'm sorry, but you not getting on this bus. I told you when I see you I'm gonna fight you."

The witness was then grabbed by the three women, one of whom handed her baby off to Derrean Mills before joining in and attempting to pull the witness off the city bus, records show.

The witness broke free, but overheard one of the attackers say: "Just let her go. We know where she lives, we'll get her later," according to records.

The witness told police that she has been threatened in the past by Turner because of her cooperation as a witness in the Finch case, and she said all the attackers are members of the Bloods Tree Top Piru gang.

It was the latest incident of violence that Derrean Mills, of the 2200 block of W. Lafayette St., has been connected to in recent months. At the time of the bus stop incident, he was being sought on a warrant that charged him and a co-defendant in the Finch case, Montell Mills, with stabbing a man downtown.

In that case, three victims said they were walking in the first block of S. Calvert St. when they were approached by a group of 10 to 15 men, three of whom repeatedly kicked and punched them in the head.

The group ran north on Calvert Street, and one of the victims realized he had been stabbed in the chest. The victim was able to identify Derrean Mills and Montell Mills, of the 600 block of Bentalou St., as well as 15-year-old Joshua Stewart and 19-year-old Roosevelt O'Neal. A trial is scheduled for August in that case.

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