Shooting suspect describes gunning down of mourners

It wasn’t hard to spot the people who attended Jordan Howe’s funeral: Their memorial T-shirts and programs gave them away. That made them easy targets for the four heavily armed men in the rented minivan, Nathaniel Simms said Thursday.

The driver turned the silver van around, Simms testified in D.C. Superior Court. The vehicle came to a stop; the window lowered. Then, Simms said, he aimed an AK-47-style assault rifle at the group, leaned back and shot; two others in the van opened fire as well.

“I didn’t even look when I shot the gun,” said Simms. “I just pulled the trigger.”

Many on the street had their backs to the van, Simms said, so they never saw the attack coming. When it was over, authorities say, three people were dead.

It was the second day of testimony for Simms in the trial of five men — Sanquan Carter, 21; his brother Orlando, 22; Jeffrey Best, 23; Robert Bost, 23; and Lamar Williams, 23 — on first-degree murder and other charges in connection with a series of shootings and counterattacks in March 2010 that left five people dead.

Simms, 28, was arrested shortly after the drive-by shooting; he pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for his cooperation with authorities. Simms faces at least 25 years behind bars. The other five face life in prison.

Simms was tearful at times as he described the March 30 shooting in the 4000 block of South Capitol Street SE that killed Brishell Jones, 16; DeVaughn Boyd, 18, and William Jones III, 19.

During the last of more than five hours of testimony Thursday, Simms detailed how he, Orlando Carter, Best and Bost drove around the city looking for “friends and associates” of Howe.

Sanquan and Orlando Carter and Best are accused of opening fire on a group outside an apartment building in the 1300 block of Alabama Avenue SE after a party on March 22. That gunfire, authorities say, killed Howe, 20, and touched off a cycle of revenge that ended with the drive-by on March 30.

On March 23, according to testimony last week, some of Howe’s friends shot and injured Orlando Carter. It was then, Simms said, that he, Orlando Carter, Williams, Best and Bost — Sanquan Carter was arrested after the Alabama Avenue shooting — planned their own retribution.

Simms and the others learned that Howe’s funeral was set for March 30, he said. In a minivan rented for $350 by a woman said to be Orlando Carter’s “godmother,” Simms testified that he, Carter, Best and Bost went searching for people who attended the service. Williams, authorities say, helped supply guns.

Inside the van, Simms testified, Carter was growing irritated. “We’re spinning all night to find them,” Simms said Carter told the others. “I didn’t rent this for nothing.”

Simms testified that before they drove down South Capitol street, he bought two black ski masks from a street vendor. They then drove to an apartment complex called the Wingate, Simms said, where Best and Bost — both armed with pistols — planned to rob Tavon Nelson of his gun.

Sitting in the minivan with Carter, Simms said, he heard gunshots. Then Best and Bost came running back.

“I hit him,” Best said, according to Simms.

“Yeah, you hit him,” Simms said Bost replied. “But I finished him.” Nelson, 17, later died from gunshot wounds, according to authorities.

Then the van turned toward South Capitol Street, Simms said, with Carter behind the wheel. The driver was the first to spot the mourners outside an apartment building, Simms testified.

“There they go with them T-shirts, right there,” Carter said, according to Simms. After Carter turned the car around and stopped it in position, Simms said, he fired the assault rifle while Best and Bost shot handguns, aiming into the crowd.

None of the victims had anything to do with the Orlando Carter shooting, authorities said.

After the shooting, Simms said, the men sat in the minivan for about 15 seconds as Carter surveyed the scene.

“He just sat there and looked and looked,” Simms testified.

Carter, sitting behind his attorneys and next to his co-defendants, smiled and shook his head as Simms testified. At times, he scribbled in a notepad.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Brittin asked Simms why he took part in the shootings. Simms began to sob.

“There’s no good explanation, but I witnessed a murder,” said Simms, referring to the shooting of Howe. “It ain’t easy to walk away from something like that and think you’re not going to be a liability to the people who you saw do stuff.”

Simms continued: “Man, we killed a lot of innocent people. That haunts me. People say I’m a sucka for being up here now but, man, I was a sucka for not stopping it.”

Attorneys for the defendants are expected to cross-examine Simms next week. They have indicated that they believe Simms has falsely implicated their clients in exchange for favor from prosecutors in his own case.

Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of intern Chandra Levy.
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