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Case involving problematic gang law postponed to January

November 6, 2009

Case involving problematic gang law postponed to January

Jessamy says current statute is badly flawed

Dajuan A. Marshall does not deny being a member of the Spyder gang, a Bloods sect, according to his defense attorney.

But that doesn’t mean the 27-year-old man should, if convicted of shooting a rival gang member several times in the head, serve an additional 10 years to 30 years in prison because of the company he keeps, his lawyer contends.

The city State’s Attorney’s Office is targeting Marshall in its first use of the 2007 Maryland Gang Prosecution Act, which allows for enhanced penalties if authorities can prove an underlying crime, such as murder, contributed to a criminal conspiracy, such as being a member of a gang. It was an effort by state legislators to toughen penalties for gang-related crimes.

But state authorities have used the new statute only three times and failed twice, in Harford and Montgomery counties, to convince judges they had enough evidence to prove a conspiracy. In Prince George’s County, a prosecutor got a suspect to plead guilty to the new charge, but the judge made his sentence concurrent to a murder conviction, essentially nullifying the enhancement.

“The new statute has proven difficult to use and rarely charged, and does not allow law enforcement to efficiently identify, investigate and prosecute criminal gang activity in Maryland,” Baltimore State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy wrote on a draft of new, tougher gang legislation she wants to submit to next year’s legislative session.

“Without revisions to the 2007 statute, gangs will continue to proliferate throughout Maryland,” the city’s top prosecutor wrote.

In other words, Jessamy says a law passed to help put gangs out of business is flawed. As proof, officials in her office point to the few times her colleagues around the state have attempted to use it in court. Now, despite her own misgivings, Jessamy is trying to invoke the statute in the case involving Marshall, saying through a spokeswoman that “this case fits” even with the problematic language of the law.

Authorities allege that Marshall and another man abducted Kenneth Jones on Custom House Avenue from The Block in June of last year, forced him at gunpoint into the trunk of a car, repeatedly shot him in the head with a .45-caliber handgun and dumped the body on Bonner Avenue in Northwest Baltimore.

Prosecutors say that Jones was a leader of the Pasadena Denver Lanes Bloods sect and had a long dispute with the Spyder Gang, another offshoot of the Bloods that, according to court documents, called themselves the Bounty Hunter Bloods.

In a 60-page court filing, Assistant State’s Attorney Traci L. Robinson argues that the gang enhancement statute applies to this case.

“The state submits that the defendant’s membership in the Spyder Gang is the motive for participation in this murder,” the motion states. It adds, using a subtle distinction, “The state is not seeking to punish the defendant for being a member of the Spyder Gang. On the contrary, the state is seeking to punish the defendant as a member of the Spyder Gang. The state will show that the Spyder Gang has as one of its primary objectives the commission of underlying crimes.”

But Marshall’s attorney, Ronald Walker, writes in his own motion that the law should be “found void for vagueness” and that a defendant “who commits an underlying felony, even without knowledge of its benefit to a criminal gang, may be prosecuted under the statute merely because of his outside participation in a criminal gang.”

Walker argues that the law leaves too much discretion to judges, police and juries to define a criminal gang, and that the statute “could encompass groups beyond those commonly thought of as gangs” such as “a group of police officers or a football team.”

On Monday, Walker and Robinson were ready to battle out the language in Circuit Court, but the defense attorney for the co-defendant pleaded for more time. The case is postponed until January.

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