The men charged in a string of shootings that represented the deadliest outbreak of violence in the District in decades have mostly sat quietly during their trial, revealing little of their character, demeanor or lives during six weeks of testimony.
But details about the friends, who face possible lifelong imprisonment after a spate of gun violence that killed five people two years ago, have emerged through testimony from family members, friends and one of the accused.
The 22-year-old man prosecutors call the ringleader, for example, also has been described as a devoted father. A former scholarship student at a North Carolina university is accused of supplying guns. And the government’s star witness was an admitted drug dealer and a fast-food restaurant worker.
Proceedings in the D.C. Superior Court trial, scheduled to continue Tuesday, appear to be nearing an end. Prosecutors rested their case last week, and the defense is expected to conclude soon. After closing arguments, the first-degree murder cases of Orlando Carter, his brother Sanquan, Jeffrey Best, Robert Bost and Lamar Williams will go to the jury.
Orlando Carter has been described as the leader of the group of friends, who are from the area of Southeast Washington known as Washington Highlands. The oldest of five brothers, he is said to have seen himself as their protector.
Carter, a father, would watch his now 3-year-old son while his 23-year-old girlfriend worked. Days before the March 22, 2010, shooting on Alabama Avenue SE that started the spree, according to testimony, he took his son to a circus performance at Verizon Center.
Carter met his girlfriend in 2007 when she was styling hair and he was wearing dreadlocks; they would sit on her steps while she did his hair. (Carter’s hair is now cut in a low fade.) They also had a daughter, but she died in infancy.
“He was always coming over,” his girlfriend said. “I liked him and he liked me.”
Carter may have seen himself as a protector on March 22 when, authorities say, 21-year-old Sanquan called to say he had been robbed of a bracelet while at a party.
Sanquan Carter was living in a halfway house at the time, authorities said, after an arrest on armed carjacking charges of which he was later acquitted. Prosecutors say he stole the gold-colored piece of costume jewelry from another resident and wore it to the party.
After hearing that Sanquan had been robbed, prosecutors say, Orlando descended on the site of the party with Nathaniel Simms and Best. Orlando gave Sanquan a handgun, according to prosecutors, and three of them — Simms says he was behind the wheel of a car — fired into a group of partygoers, killing Jordan Howe, 20.
Simms is the tall, lanky father of a daughter, 6, and a 4-year-old son. He wore dreadlocks until his arrest, and now sports a short cut that exposes a receding hairline.
Simms sometimes broke into tears as he spoke of the March 30 shooting in which he aimed an AK-47-style assault rifle into a crowd — many of them people who had attended Howe’s funeral earlier in the day — and began shooting.
Three people — Brishell Jones, 16, DaVaughn Boyd, 19, and William Jones III, 19 — were killed in that shooting, during which prosecutors and Simms said Bost, Best and Simms opened fire while Orlando Carter drove a rented minivan.
That attack, authorities say, was planned after Howe’s friends found Orlando Carter near Sixth and Chesapeake Streets SE on March 23 and shot him twice. Simms, who has admitted to selling marijuana and ecstasy while also working at area Wendy’s and Domino’s Pizza restaurants, said he was at a tax preparer’s office when Orlando Carter was shot.
Orlando Carter planned the drive-by shooting as an act of vengeance, prosecutors say, contriving a fatal attack on Tavon Nelson, 17, minutes before the drive-by in an attempt to steal a handgun.
Lamar Williams, 23, is not accused of pulling the trigger in any of the shootings, but prosecutors say he supplied guns.
Williams at one time had a scholarship to attend Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., where he played in a school band; his love of partying caused him to leave the school, people familiar with him said.
Little about Bost, 23, has been revealed in court. Bost is Orlando Carter’s son’s godfather, one witness testified. He is accused of deadly roles in the drive-by shooting and Nelson’s killing.
Jeffrey Best, 23, is the only defendant to testify. Charged with taking part in the Alabama Avenue shooting, the death of Nelson and the drive-by shooting on South Capitol Street SE, he denied any role in them and said he was elsewhere.
According to testimony, Best was raised by strict grandparents who are deacons in their church — his mother lived with them but worked long hours — and forbade him from leaving the house after dark or bringing girls and other teenagers to their home.
As Best grew older, according to testimony, he broke his grandparents’ rules and was kicked out of the house from time to time; he would spend nights with other relatives or his girlfriend.
Simms testified to Best’s role in the shootings. But Best said Simms lied in a bid to get revenge for his stealing a backpack carrying marijuana after Simms was arrested.
“I didn’t do this,” Best testified. “I didn’t have nothing to do with this.”
Best testified that he was at his grandparents’ home during the March 22 shooting. He said he was out hustling drugs and then at an ex-girlfriend’s on March 30.
During cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Hegyi reminded Best that three witnesses placed him with the other men either minutes before or after the shootings. Best said the witnesses were mistaken.
Hegyi also showed cellphone records that indicate repeated calls between Best and the five other men minutes before the Alabama Avenue and South Capitol Street shootings, but none during them — suggesting that the men did not have to call each other because they were together.
A police video of Best and his mother that prosecutors showed the jury provided one of the trial’s more dramatic moments. After detectives questioned him about his role in the shootings, they called his mother into the interview room.
Best, who was the last of the suspects arrested, told detectives that he thought his family had turned its back on him after his arrest and that he had contemplated suicide. When his mother arrived, she sternly asked whether he was involved in the shootings.
Best did not respond verbally. The prosecution argues that he nodded slightly; the defense says he only bowed his head. But his mother followed up: “Why, because of Orlando? See what Orlando go you into?” she asked him.
Best began sobbing. He asked his mother for a hug. “I love you, Ma,” he mumbled in her arms.
“I love you, too,” she replied.