- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Federal prosecutors have filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty against two D.C. men charged with running a violent drug gang in Southeast.

The men, Antwuan Ball and David Wilson, reportedly led the Congress Park Crew, which authorities say dealt hundreds of kilograms of crack cocaine in Southeast for more than a decade. The gang resorted to homicide, assault and armed robbery, authorities said.

The move to seek the death penalty marks the second time in a year that the U.S. Department of Justice has declared it will seek capital punishment in the District.

In the other case, Larry Gooch, described as an enforcer in the M Street Crew in Northeast, has been charged in five killings and is expected to go to trial in January.

Only two capital murder cases have gone to trial in the District since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. The District has no statute for the death penalty, but capital punishment can be pursued in federal cases if authorized by the U.S. attorney general.

However, there are questions about whether the move to seek the death penalty against Ball and Wilson came too late.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts issued a ruling barring the death penalty in the case.

Judge Roberts wrote that the Justice Department did not comply with his order setting a Sept. 15 deadline for a decision on whether to seek capital punishment. On Monday, the U.S. attorney’s office filed the notice to seek the death penalty and asked Judge Roberts to reconsider.

“The process took as long as it did not because the government was insensitive to the speedy trial rights of the defendants, but because we were giving additional and extra careful consideration to defendants’ interests,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Glenn S. Leon and Ann H. Petalas told Judge Roberts in a memo.

The filings also state that additional deliberations in the case and the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks contributed to the delay.

Attorneys for Ball and Wilson could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the District-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, said yesterday that the Bush administration seems to have pursued death-penalty cases in jurisdictions where capital punishment is banned.

“There is a lot of discretion,” Mr. Dieter said. “The current distraction appears more aggressive than the prior administration in seeking the death penalty in jurisdictions that don’t have their own death penalty.”

Mr. Dieter also said gang-related cases seem to be getting more attention in recent years.

“Gangs are not just one of the highlighted areas in the federal system, but states are looking at them, too,” he said.

In Greenbelt, federal prosecutors have begun putting on trial those suspected of belonging to the MS-13 gang, including nine defendants facing the death penalty.

In the District, prosecutors filed charges against Ball, Wilson and more than a dozen other Congress Park Crew suspects under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which was passed more than 30 years ago to target organized crime. The indictment includes four first-degree murder charges.

Prosecutors said Ball fatally shot Troy Lewis on Jan. 23, 1996. Ball and Wilson also are accused of conspiring to kill members of a rival gang, the 10th Place/Trenton Place Crew. Authorities said the two gangs have fought turf wars since the mid-1990s.

In addition, prosecutors said Ball used “intimidation and physical force” to keep witnesses to slayings silent.

Prosecutors said Ball used to be a lieutenant in the 1-5 Mob, whose leader, Tommy Edelin, faced the death penalty but was sentenced to life in prison in 2004.

The only other death-penalty case to go to trial in the District ended last year with the defendants sentenced to life in prison. Jurors deadlocked on giving the death penalty to Murder Inc. gang members Kevin L. Gray and Rodney Moore.

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