- The Washington Times - Monday, October 31, 2005

BALTIMORE (AP) — The U.S. attorney’s office has dropped a decade-old case against a ruthless cocaine dealer who ordered the killing of a man who was going to testify against him after seeing the drug dealer kill an underling.

Donald Lee Ferebe ordered the killing of Benjamin Paige in a shooting that also claimed the life of Mr. Paige’s cousin and wounded another person in 1995.

Police quickly arrested Ferebe, and the U.S. attorney’s office charged him in federal court with three murders, carrying a maximum penalty of death.

Ferebe is serving life in prison without parole for shooting his underling.

But last month, more than a decade after Mr. Paige and his cousin were killed, federal prosecutors in Baltimore quietly dropped the charges against Ferebe in their killings.

Mr. Paige’s half-brother, a Baltimore police officer, was stunned.

“You have your head blown off, and the U.S. government says, ‘Forget you, who cares?’” Aaron Ferguson told the Baltimore Sun.

The 35-year-old, a narcotics sergeant who lives in Harford County, also said, “It’s the principle. … If they drop cases like these, who’s going to want to help police?”

A review of court records and interviews with attorneys, investigators and family members shows that the Ferebe case derailed, in part, because prosecutors did not follow proper procedures for pursuing the death penalty.

The courts ruled that the government wasted too much time before declaring its intention to put Ferebe to death.

The U.S. attorney’s office announced that it would abandon the case.

Prosecutors explained their decision by reminding a federal judge in Baltimore that the shooters hired to kill Mr. Paige were serving prison terms.

Another trial, they argued, was unnecessary because Ferebe was serving life without parole for the murder that Mr. Paige had witnessed. Prosecutors told the judge in September that the families endorsed their reluctant decision.

“All participants in the crimes have been punished,” Assistant U.S. Attorney James G. Warwick wrote.

U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein spoke for the office last week when he said, “Given that we couldn’t pursue the death penalty, we wouldn’t be able to exact any more punishment.”

According to court records, the best hope for any conviction was hamstrung four years ago when the Justice Department overruled Maryland prosecutors on the death-penalty issue.

Ferebe had wanted to plead guilty to Mr. Paige’s contract murder. Federal prosecutors in Baltimore agreed to two terms of life in prison.

In July 2001, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft’s office ordered prosecutors in Baltimore to rip up their signed agreement with Ferebe and forced them to seek the death penalty.

It was part of Mr. Ashcroft’s new policy of uniform and, some say, harsher oversight of capital-murder cases.

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