Two inmates at the D.C. jail were convicted yesterday of conspiring to have themselves shot as part of a plot to sue the District government for negligence.
Two other inmates already had pleaded guilty in D.C. Superior Court to participating in the bizarre scheme, which unfolded almost two years ago.
The shootings were initially believed to be another brazen act of jailhouse violence, but investigators soon concluded that they were actually an attempt to profit from the Southeast Washington facility's history of security problems. To carry out the scam, prosecutors said, the men smuggled a gun into the jail.
The shootings took place the afternoon of Dec. 20, 2003, about a year after two jail inmates were killed in separate stabbings.
Four inmates were wounded in the gunfire: Shawn Gray, Frederick Robinson, Leonard Johnson and Jamal Jefferson. None was seriously hurt; all were treated at hospitals and returned to their cells within two days, authorities said.
Jefferson, the prosecutors said, had tried to bail out of the scheme at the last minute. But he was shot anyway, and prosecutors charged Gray and Johnson with assaulting him. The jury acquitted the men of that charge and related firearm and contraband charges.
But they convicted Gray, the accused mastermind, and Johnson of conspiracy and four weapons offenses. Each faces at least 11 years in prison at sentencing Jan. 3 by Judge Rhonda Reid Winston.
Robinson and Jefferson, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy, testified for the government during the trial, which began in early September and dragged on for weeks. The pace was slower than anticipated, leading to a succession of scheduling conflicts that further prolonged the trial.
Disjointed as it was, the trial finally shed light on the strange events.
A package containing a gun was apparently tossed onto a ledge accessible from the recreation yard, where it was retrieved by one of the conspirators, according to the prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Emory V. Cole and Thomas A. Gillice.
According to the indictment, the plot was aborted several times before it was carried out. In one instance, Gray allegedly called off plans to carry out the shootings in his cell on a Monday, the day that inmates receive their weekly supply of toiletries and other personal items. The indictment says Gray knew the jail would be locked down after the shooting, and "he did not want the inmates to go without their supplies."
Gregory Lattimer, Johnson's defense attorney, has argued that the shooting was not the scam portrayed by the government but was payback for the seizure of a stash of drugs and cell phones that was being smuggled into the jail.
In an interview last night, Lattimer repeated that argument. "There was a hit put out, and that was the reason for what went down in the jail," he said.
But the jurors bought into the government story, Lattimer said, because the men charged were already in jail, making it easier to believe the allegations against them, and because key evidentiary rulings went against the defense.
"It was an unfair verdict," Lattimer said.