Four witnesses, including a D.C. police officer and Brandon Terrell's girlfriend, testified yesterday that they saw Columbus Daniels stand over Terrell and shoot him at least four times as he lay on the ground outside the Chapter III nightclub two years ago.
In vivid detail, the four told of the hours that led up to the killing: how Terrell cursed drug dealer Rayful Edmond III before hundreds of people, how he challenged Edmond's authority to control key drug areas, how Edmond threatened to retaliate if he found Terrell selling on his "turf," and finally, how Terrell tried to run away from Daniels just before he was shot in the back in the middle of First Street SE.
Of the four witnesses, only the police officer reported the shooting to authorities immediately afterwards. Daniels is on trial for murder.
After more than three months of testimony in two earlier drug conspiracy trials of members of the Edmond gang, yesterday's witnesses were the first to directly link Edmond's drug operation, and Edmond himself, to murder.
And intertwined with their accounts of the slaying were fresh insights into life on the fringes of a major drug organization.
Mattie Johnson, 18, Terrell's girlfriend, told how she had met him on the street the Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast Washington, and how he started visiting her at her grandmother's house that same day. Soon, she said, he was buying her tennis shoes -- she rattled off a half-dozen name brands -- and was giving her $400 every two weeks. She was 14 years old at the time.
She said that she didn't ask where the money was coming from for more than a year, and that when she did, he replied that he didn't have a job, but was a drug dealer. Then he asked, "Do you still want me?" She said she replied, "Yes, I do."
Johnson described what it was like at "the Chapter" when Edmond and his entourage would enter, take over a corner of the club and order $100 bottles of Dom Perignon champagne, two or three at a time. She said the "girls" at the club would start "prancing past him" and "giving him little notes," hoping that Edmond would notice them.
She could recount exactly when she'd met each member of Edmond's gang, and disclosed that around the same time she was seeing Terrell she'd also had a "close" relationship with Jerry Millington, who like Edmond, 25, and Daniels, 19, was convicted earlier of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Millington is the common-law husband of one of Edmond's sisters.
Johnson, then 16 years old, said she'd gone to the club -- where the minimum age for entry was supposed to be 18 -- on the night of June 22, 1988, because she and Terrell had fought earlier in the day and she wanted to make up. He was there "drinking and looking at the girls," and would have little to do with her, but she watched as he argued with Edmond.
She said she saw Daniels "gritting on" Terrell as he walked away. She explained that street term for a nasty snub or insult by giving a courtroom demonstration, turning and walking away with a slighting glare.
Two months earlier, Johnson said, Terrell had told her that he wanted to start up his own "strip" for drug sales, and that that was what Terrell and Edmond were arguing about.
Soon, her sister and the friends with whom they had gone to the club were ready to leave, and Johnson sought out Terrell to ask him to come by her house later. He told her that he "felt like something was about to happen," she said, and that he was tired of the Edmond people trying to take advantage of him.
As Terrell walked away from her outside the club, she saw Edmond nod his head toward Daniels, she said. Shots were fired, and she jumped behind a nearby tree. She said she heard Terrell cry out, "Why are you doing this to me? I thought you were my friend."
Johnson testified that she peeked out from behind the tree, heard Daniels utter a profanity, then saw him fire four more shots into Terrell as he lay on the pavement.