A D.C. Superior Court jury yesterday convicted six of the 10 young persons on trial for the 1984 slaying of 48-year-old Catherine Fuller, a tiny Northeast woman who was accosted while shopping, dragged into an alley and pummeled to death while a crowd looked on.
The jury acquitted two others charged in the brutal killing -- drawing prayers of thanks from relatives of those acquitted and gasps from some spectators in the courtroom lined with bulletproof glass -- and then recessed without reaching a verdict on the remaining two defendants.
Found guilty of first-degree murder, armed robbery and kidnaping were Levy Rouse, 20, the man prosecutors accused of the most vicious attack on Fuller; Timothy Catlett, 20, also known as "Snot Rag"; Kelvin D. Smith, 20, also known as "Hollywood"; Charles S. Turner, 21, also known as "Fella"; Steven L. Webb, 20, and Clifton E. Yarborough, 17.
The jury of seven women and five men acquitted Felicia Ruffin, 17, also known as "Lunchin' Lisa," the only female defendant, and Alphonso L. Harris, 23, known as "Monk."
The jury, which returned its verdicts at 2:45 p.m. after 6 1/2 days of deliberations, reported it would be "impossible" to reach unanimous verdicts for Russell L. Overton, 26, known as "Bobo," and Christopher D. Turner, 20, known as "Chrissie."
But Superior Court Judge Robert M. Scott, who has presided over the trial since its start on Oct. 31, ordered the panel to resume deliberations, then excused the jurors for the day. The jury, which has been sequestered at an undisclosed location since Friday night, is set to resume this morning.
The guilty verdicts represent the largest number of people ever convicted on first-degree murder charges in a single murder in the District. Two other young men -- Harry J. Bennett, 19, and Calvin Alston, 20 -- previously pleaded guilty to reduced charges in exchange for their testimony, and another defendant, James Michael Campbell, 17, is awaiting trial.
The six found guilty of first-degree murder face mandatory prison terms of at least 20 years before becoming eligible for parole if the judge sentences them as adults. Judge Scott set sentencing dates in January and February.
There was a nervous tension in Courtroom No. 1 yesterday as the jury filed quietly in and was seated in the packed courtroom. Scott asked if the jury had reached agreement on a verdict for the first defendant, Catlett. Jury foreman Robert Lucas stood and responded in a loud voice to Scott's query of the first count of kidnaping. "Guilty," said Lucas, his voice echoing in the courtroom. As Lucas repeated "guilty" to the remaining three charges against Catlett, several of the defendants bowed their heads, and Catlett put his hand over his head, then over his eyes, as he began to cry.
As the rest of the verdicts were announced, families and friends of the defendants and of Catherine Fuller gasped or broke into large smiles.
Mary Ella Ruffin, grandmother of the only female defendant, clasped her hands and whispered "Oh God, thank you, Jesus" when Lucas answered "not guilty" to each of the four charges against the teen-ager.
Emma Bratton, whose son Levy Rouse was accused of viciously assaulting the 99-pound Fuller with a pole, whispered, "He's not going to live long," after the verdict concerning her son was read.
Barbara Wade, Catherine Fuller's sister who has sat in the courtroom throughout the six-week proceedings, nodded her head vigorously when the last "guilty" verdict was read.
"I'm glad to see some justice is done in the case," said Wade. She said she was not "outraged" or "surprised" by the two acquittals. "My main interest is getting the main leaders off the street, which they did, but I hope history does not repeat itself."
As he walked from the courtroom, prosecutor Jerry S. Goren wrapped his arms around the shoulders of police detectives who had worked on the case, saying "good work." The detectives sat rigidly in the front row of the courtroom as the verdicts were read. Some kept track of the verdicts, others nodded and once, when foreman Lucas announced "not guilty" to the charges against Harris, some of the detectives slumped.
Later, at Wade's home, where family members had gathered to watch accounts of the trial, David Fuller, the victim's husband, vented anger at the verdicts. "It's not over with and I'm not satisfied. I can't take this. I won't be satisfied until they get all of them."
Fuller suggested that the jury might have been rushed. "Those people just wanted to go [Christmas] shopping for their kids."
Goren and the detectives seemed perplexed by the jury's announcement that it was unable to reach a verdict on Overton and Christopher Turner. Later, in a note to the judge, one juror raised the possibility of a hung jury when it was disclosed that at least 10 votes were taken on Overton and Turner and most jurors would not budge. The government's evidence against Turner was almost identical to that presented against Smith, who was convicted yesterday.
Christopher Turner, whose brother Charles was convicted yesterday, testified that he spent the day with Smith lounging around the house watching television. But unlike Smith, who often appeared confused, Turner spoke calmly and clearly as he described his day, and many of the other defense lawyers commented favorably on his appearance.
When the guilty verdicts were pronounced against his best friend Smith and before he knew the jury had not reached a verdict in his case yet, Turner began to cry, leaning his head on his hands. Those tears increased as guilty verdicts against his brother were read.
The verdicts capped a month-long trial that had become a cause celebre for police, prosecutors, the media and the community at large, members of whom swarmed daily to the largest courtroom in the courthouse to hear testimony about a slaying that has been called almost unspeakable and unexplainable in its brutality.
Despite testimony by about 60 witnesses and scores of exhibits, yesterday's verdict seemed to leave unanswered the central question of how a group of young persons, some of whom knew Fuller, could commit such a crime.
Prosecution witnesses testified that Fuller, a mother of six, went out on a drizzly Monday afternoon -- her hair in pink curlers and $50 in a coin purse tucked in her bra -- to buy some medicine for her sore ankle, when she was pointed out as a possible robbery victim by a group of young persons who had congregated in a neighborhood park.
The group began to follow Fuller, according to witnesses. Fuller was pushed into an alley near Eighth and H streets NE, where she was beaten and kicked, stripped nearly naked and dragged over glass into an abandoned garage, the witnesses testified. There, several witnesses said, Rouse thrust a foot-long pole into Fuller's rectum as a group of about 30 young persons watched.
A medical examiner testified that Fuller died as a result of "multiple blunt-force" injuries, including one to the liver that was so severe it was the kind typically received in a high-speed car accident or in a fall from a building.
Defense lawyers did not dispute the brutality of Fuller's death but raised questions about whether the right people were on trial and attacked the credibility of prosecution witnesses, portraying some as spurned lovers and drug dealers, all with a motive to lie.
Six of the defendants, including five who testified, offered defenses that put them elsewhere in the neighborhood at the time Fuller was beaten to death -- at arcades and carryouts, at a girlfriend's home doing homework, at home sleeping off an afternoon of drinking or watching television.
Rouse testified that he did not arrive at the alley until Fuller's body was being removed.
In her summation, Rouse's attorney, Lillian McEwen, blamed three other persons not on trial for Fuller's death. Rouse's defense fueled some of the bitterest moments of the trial as other defense lawyers repeatedly attempted to disassociate their clients from Rouse, whom one defense lawyer described as a "twisted psychopath."
Last week, the specter of a mistrial hung over jury deliberations when it was revealed that one juror's daughter knew several of the defendants, including three of those convicted yesterday. The juror took the witness stand and denied knowing about her daughter's acquaintances. Judge Scott denied defense motions for a mistrial or to remove the juror from the panel.
The trial provided a glimpse into the depressed Northeast neighborhood where many of the youths lived and Fuller died. Several witnesses and defendants described a life style of dropping out of school, not working, fathering illegitimate children, hanging out at arcades, avoiding the police and smoking PCP.
One witness stunned the court when he said he had seen Fuller in the alley, heard her yelling for help and ran home and told his aunt.
"When I told her she just told me you just don't say nothing to no one else," said 14-year-old Maurice A. Thomas.
Some of the most emotional moments in the trial occurred when the government's key witnesses -- two young men who admitted to killing Fuller -- took the stand.
Bennett, the first to make an agreement with the government in which he pleaded guilty to manslaughter and robbery in exchange for his testimony, drew moans from courtroom spectators when Goren asked him if Fuller had said anything when she was being assaulted with the pole.
"Stop," Bennett whispered, breaking into tears.
Calvin Alston, whose guilty plea to second-degree murder and agreement to testify just before the start of the trial was a turning point for prosecutors, broke down when he described a scene of mass "pushing and shoving" as a group of about a dozen tried "to get their licks in" with Fuller.
But Alston was unable to answer why a random robbery over a coin purse turned into a vicious killing. Alston first answered "yes" when asked if he had attacked Fuller just for the sake of attacking her, but then he responded "no" when asked if Alston just wanted to hurt "that little lady."
"I was just throwing punches," Alston answered quietly.