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Once a promising military school student in Georgia with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average, Veal moved to the Washington area in the 1990s and bounced from job to job. Over the years, he’d sold used Hondas, installed carpeting and worked as a bank teller. But the easy money came selling drugs.

Veal sold “dime bags” of marijuana on a stretch of Forrester Street, which in the 1990s was one of the city’s busy open-air drug markets. One night, a customer got out of his car and looked at Veal’s marijuana, then ran across the street to inspect another dealer’s supply before returning to make a $10 deal.

The other dealer, who had a violent reputation, was furious, pulling up his shirt and showing a gun tucked in his waistband, according to court testimony. “You don’t know who I am?” he yelled at Veal. Later that night, the dealer was spotted walking down the street toward Veal.

“You better run. He’s coming to get you,” someone nearby warned. While being shot at, Veal took off running and got away. The next day, Veal was prepared. When the dealer approached again, Veal didn’t run; he shot the man. After the shooting, Veal’s reputation on the streets changed fast. So did his lifestyle.

“I wasn’t just the new kid from Georgia,” he later testified. “I was like one of them. It made me feel good. It made me feel accepted, like being a part of something — I guess I just wanted to belong or be a part of something … . I mean, they had all these Mercedes and Acuras, Tahoes with TVs.”

Stalking a target

The plan was to kill Roy Cobb in front of Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School in Northeast Washington, about eight blocks from Union Station, as he picked up his girlfriend’s children with school letting out. On a spring day in 1998, Veal stood leaning against a short wrought-iron fence in front of a house across the street, looking like any other waiting parent.

Rodney Moore, an associate of Gray‘s, wanted Veal to kill Cobb, according to testimony. Moore said he thought Cobb had “tried to put a hit on him,” Veal later testified.

Veal, tipped off that Cobb picked up the children, spotted Cobb’s car from a block away. The car pulled up in front of school and idled within feet of Veal, who said Cobb glanced right at him.

Roy, he was like looking at me, but I don’t think he suspect nothing,” Veal recalled in court. “He probably thought I was just someone waiting for my child or something. I don’t know. He looked at me, but he didn’t think anything, I don’t believe.”

Just then, Veal said he saw two boys walking toward the car. They were about 6 and 8 years old.

Veal stopped, he explained in court, because he didn’t want the boys to see the murder, so he let Cobb go. Veal said his associates, watching from a block away, were furious. “You had him. Why you didn’t get him?” one said, according to Veal.

Veal said he made up an excuse and told them that they’d get another chance. Indeed, another day, Cobb was spotted talking in front of the beauty shop where his girlfriend worked near Howard University. Without hesitation this time, Veal walked up and shot Cobb once. But the gun jammed, and as a panicking Veal took off running toward a nearby alley, he wasn’t sure if he really killed Cobb.

“So I unjammed the gun and then I ran back across the street again to where I had shot him … and I just shot him a bunch of times to make sure he was dead, because I usually like try to shoot people in the head so that, you know, it’ll be quick. …”

Cobb’s killing was reported in a three-sentence news brief on June 1, 1998, in The Washington Post, which said police had no suspect or motive for the killing. Only years later, authorities portrayed the Cobb killing as the work of the most murderous drug-dealing organization in the nation’s capital.

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