By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 30, 2010; B01
One of the five men arrested in a series of fatal shootings last month, including a drive-by that killed three people, pleaded guilty Thursday to five lesser counts of second-degree murder while armed in exchange for cooperating with investigators.
Under increased security in the courtroom of D.C. Superior Court Judge Michael L. Rankin, Nathaniel Simms, 26, told the judge that he agreed to give a detailed account of the three shootings that culminated in the March 30 drive-by that left three dead and six wounded in the 4000 block of South Capitol Street SE.
Five men, including Simms, were originally charged with multiple counts of first-degree premeditated murder. The others are Orlando Carter, 20, Robert Bost, 22, Jeffrey D. Best, 21, and Lamar Williams, 22, who have pleaded not guilty in earlier hearings.
The three fatal shootings, Simms told authorities, were a result of -- and planned around -- retaliation. Five people were killed and eight were wounded in the attacks.
"I accept the charges," Simms said quietly while standing next to his court-appointed attorney, James Williams, after the charges were read.
Williams told the judge that his client has been the subject of death threats and has been moved to a separate facility in the D.C. jail.
Under Superior Court sentencing guidelines, Simms faces 25 years to life in prison for the five murder charges and two conspiracy charges. If his testimony helps in the investigation and prosecution of the other suspects, prosecutors could petition Rankin for a lighter sentence.
The plea bargain angered many of the victims' family members, who filled several rows of the courtroom. "I can't understand how you can admit to shooting an AK-47 at people and it not be first-degree murder," Nardyne Jefferies, mother of the youngest victim, said after the hearing. "That's why there are so many murderers walking the streets now."
New details of the shootings emerged during the hearing as Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Brittin outlined the sequence of events, based largely on Simms's account.
The first shooting occurred the morning of March 22, when Carter's younger brother, Sanquan, 19, attended a party in the 1300 block of Alabama Avenue SE. At some point, Sanquan noticed that his gold-colored bracelet was missing. He phoned Orlando, who, along with Simms and Best, drove to the apartment building with an AK-47 assault rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and a .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol that Lamar Williams had provided that evening.
Orlando Carter handed the pistol to his brother, who was standing outside waiting, and then they and Best began to "shoot and kill" people they thought were associated with stealing the bracelet. Simms remained behind the wheel of the car with the engine running, and all four then drove off. Three partygoers were shot, including Jordan Howe, 20, who died.
The next day, Sanquan Carter was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
That evening, Orlando Carter was wounded in a shooting near Sixth and Chesapeake streets SE. He was treated at a hospital. No one has been arrested in that incident.
Simms told authorities that Orlando Carter thought he had been shot in retaliation for Howe's slaying. The men hatched a scheme to "shoot and kill as many friends and associates" of Howe's as possible at Howe's funeral, which was March 30.
The men had planned to stake out the funeral and shoot mourners, but they were unable to rent a minivan before the service. By the time they secured the van, the funeral was over, but they assumed that mourners would still be assembled.
Before the five men drove to South Capitol Street, Simms told authorities that the group wanted another weapon for the attack, so they planned to rob Tavon Nelson, 17, of his gun. Nelson was standing outside his apartment complex on Galveston Street SW. With Simms and Carter waiting in the minivan, Best and Bost left the van and fatally shot Nelson during the robbery.
Best and Bost returned to the minivan, and the five men, wearing "black ninja-type masks," drove to South Capitol Street, where mourners were gathered outside an apartment building after attending Howe's funeral that day.
About 7:25 p.m., with Carter behind the wheel, Simms pointed the AK-47 out the window of the van, Bost fired a .45-caliber pistol and Best fired a 9mm semiautomatic pistol at the crowd. Killed were DaVaughn Boyd, 18, William Jones III, 19, and Brishell Jones, 16.