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04-11-06, 10:33 AM #1
Baltimore City Detectives seen in Stop Snitching video convicted on federal charges
Detectives William A. King and Antonio L. Murray tried to explain it all.
Their names surfaced in the infamous Stop Snitching video because they said drug peddlers feared them. They stole cocaine and heroin to give to informants because they said their training endorsed it. Their own police department abandoned them because, they said, commanders dare not admit that cracking the drug trade means breaking the rules.
Yesterday, a jury in U.S. District Court in Baltimore rejected every one of those explanations and convicted the Baltimore police officers of acting no better than the drug dealers they were sworn to arrest. Convicted on federal charges of carrying a gun during multiple robberies and conspiracy to sell drugs, King and Murray could spend the rest of their lives in prison.
The guilty verdicts for running a renegade drug operation were an extraordinary turn of fate for King, the son of a police officer, and Murray, who had been shot in the line of duty and returned to uniform only to face a slew of public corruption charges.
Their superiors once viewed King and Murray, both 35, as a well-oiled team, selecting them to root out drugs in the department's new public housing unit. Jurors decided they were also ruthless partners in crime.
"They had an opportunity to accept responsibility for what they had done," said Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, whose office shepherded the FBI investigation and brought the case to trial. "But they didn't want to. They took the stand, and the jury very resoundingly rejected them and didn't believe them."
In a packed but somber courtroom, King was found guilty on all but one of the charges in the 33-count indictment against him. Jurors found Murray, who played a less prominent role in the conspiracy, guilty on all but two of the 15 counts he faced in the indictment.
The officers' families waited four days for the verdict, and many members wept silently when it arrived. Afterward, they declined to comment about the case.
U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz ordered that the jury of eight women and four men be escorted out of the courthouse to ensure their privacy and anonymity.
King's attorney, Edward Smith Jr., did not attend the reading of the jury's verdict at 11:45 a.m. Murray's lawyer did, saying that the conviction sadly demonstrated the need for better training and better leadership in the Police Department.
"They didn't have the right supervision or enough resources," attorney Russell A. Neverdon Sr. said. "But the department has also allowed a lot of officers to bend the rules. It doesn't make sense that my client has to pay the price."
Neverdon said he expects to appeal the jury's decision. He pointed to the judge's decisions to bar the Stop Snitching DVD from evidence and to keep former police Commissioner Edward T. Norris from testifying about rumors he had heard of officers who had skirted departmental rules.
The convictions come at a difficult time for the city's Police Department. Last week, an officer was arrested on charges that he took bribes from a suspect in return for agreeing not to show up at the man's criminal trial.
In May, three Southwestern District "flex squad" officers are scheduled to be tried on rape charges. Police documents accuse squad members of crimes similar to those committed by King and Murray, including stealing from suspects in custody.
Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm declined through a spokesman to comment on yesterday's verdict, saying he would wait until after the officers' sentencing, scheduled for May 31.
During the trial, federal prosecutors took care to isolate King and Murray's misdeeds from the rest of the department, whose members they described as honorable.
"The actions of King and Murray are an insult to decent police officers in Baltimore City and everywhere," Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Peters told jurors in his closing arguments Tuesday.
Relying on hours of secretly recorded conversations of the officers, federal prosecutors spent almost three weeks presenting evidence that the officers robbed drug addicts in West Baltimore to reward their sources on the street and line their own pockets.
Prosecutors sought to show that King and Murray abused the tools of their trade - department badges, unmarked cars and department-issue guns - by stealing drugs and money, distributing heroin, cocaine and marijuana to their informants and sharing in the proceeds when the drugs were sold.
Police officials said earlier that the officers' names were mentioned on Stop Snitching because they were in partnership with drug informants and profited from the relationship.
The detectives countered that they manipulated their drug-addicted sources into thinking they were working on joint drug deals, all in an effort to collect information about some of the city's most powerful drug dealers.
Defense attorneys described the officers as scapegoats inside a department that had been buffeted by the changing policies of several police commissioners in recent years.
Taking the case to trial posed an enormous risk for King and Murray. They rejected an earlier plea deal with prosecutors, prompting additional charges to be filed by the government.
In a rare move, King and Murray each took the witness stand in his own defense. But their expansive accounts of unorthodox police tactics went largely uncorroborated by other witnesses. Experts testifying for the prosecution described King and Murray's techniques as a violation of department rules, if not crimes.
Now the former partners face dismissal from the department and hundreds of years in prison.
On the 13 gun possession charges alone, federal law requires that King receive a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 305 years, according to prosecutors' calculations. They expect Murray to face no less than 130 years in prison for his six gun-related convictions.
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