WASHINGTON – Five men are now facing life in prison after being charged in connection to a string of retaliatory shootings capped off by one of the most violent drive-by shootings in D.C. history.
Friends and family members gasped and cried out, “Oh God!” in the crowded courtroom Tuesday after seeing pictures of the victims surrounded by pools of blood. The evidence was presented by lead prosecutor Michael Brittin in his opening statements, which lasted more than three hours.
Over the course of eight days in March 2010, five people were killed and at least nine others were injured in three separate attacks. The violence started after one of the suspect’s gold bracelets was stolen at a party.
That led to the first shooting on South Capitol Street and then two more retaliatory attacks, police said. The victims ranged in age from 16 to 23.
The five men face more than 90 charges, including several first-degree murder charges.
At the conclusion of his opening statement on Tuesday, Brittin told the jury there was an honest, but significant mistake made by police.
Brittin explained at length how police identified and arrested a 14-year-old boy as the driver of the mini van. Malik Carter, who is no relation to the Carter brothers charged in the killings, was arrested and charged in the drive by killings, but later exonerated. But not before his name was published by the Washington Examiner newspaper, a move then D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said put the boys life at risk.
“No doubt the defense will try to exploit that mistake,” Brittin said.
Brittin’s statement painted Orlando Carter as the ring leader who orchestrated all three of the shootings. “It was Orlando Carter” Brittin said repeatedly.
Much of the prosecution’s case is based on the testimony of Nathaniel Simms, who has already pleaded guilty to five murder charges and two counts of conspiracy. According to prosecutors, Simms participated in all three of the shootings and is now cooperating with prosecutors as part of his plea deal.
Before Tuesday’s trial got under way, one of the jurors was excused for reasons that were not made public at the trial. A second juror was excused after he told the judge he works with the mother of one of the victims.
There were five alternate jurors. As of Tuesday afternoon, there were only three remaining.
“I’m concerned we’ve lost two jurors and its only the first day,” the judge told attorneys Tuesday.
The defendants, all between the ages of 21 and 23 years old, sat behind their attorneys in the courtroom. One of them, Jeffery Best, wore a bright red bow tie as he sat and listened to the prosecutor describe how he helped plan and carry out two of the shootings.
Brittin described the scene on South Capitol Street as “complete and utter chaos where nine people were shot within a few seconds.”
More than 100 witnesses are expected to testify in the trial that could last up to three months.
If convicted, the men could be sentenced to life in prison. D.C. does not have the death penalty.