The crimes, tragically absurd and shocking to the civic conscience, left five people dead and nine wounded in a spate of mindless gunfire. Sparked by a missing bracelet — a cheap and gaudy trinket — and fueled by vengeance, the mayhem climaxed in a homicidal drive-by shooting in Southeast Washington.
That was in March 2010. The reckoning came Tuesday in D.C. Superior Court.
Five young men, slouched in chairs for most of an emotional, day-long hearing, were called to account for one of the bloodiest cycles of retaliatory violence in the District’s memory. Convicted in May of multiple counts of murder, they sat through hours of tearful laments and angry upbraidings Tuesday from loved ones of the dead.
Then they were sentenced to grow old in prison. Three were told they will never get out.
“Now it’s time for these punks to pay,” said Norman Williams, whose son, Jordan Howe, was killed. His voice rising in the crowded courtroom, he implored Judge Ronna L. Beck to imprison the men “until each one of them is dead, dead, dead!”
“Murderous cowards,” said Patricia Jefferies, whose granddaughter Brishell Jones was among the slain. “Dangerous psychopaths,” said Brishell's step-grandmother, Linda Jefferies.
“This heinous and vicious tragedy has made me lose most of myself in ways that has made me turn to depression, anxiety and panic attack medication,” Shelly Proctor, mother of the murdered William Jones III, told Beck. Like the others, she spoke through sobs. “I yearn for my son William every day, and I miss him so much.”
Jeffrey Best and Robert Bost, both 23, and Orlando Carter, 22, were ordered locked up for life without the possibility of parole. Orlando Carter’s brother, Sanquan, 21, got a 54-year term. Lamar Williams, 24, was sentenced to 30 years behind bars.
Shackled at their wrists and ankles, clad in orange jailhouse coveralls and cheap white sneakers with the laces removed, they stared blankly at the judge. Gone were the creased slacks and cardigan sweaters, the polished shoes, bow ties and nonprescription eyewear — “personality glasses” — that gave them a look of schoolboy innocence during a two-month trial that ended with 174 guilty verdicts.
The Carter brothers spoke briefly, thanking friends and relatives for supporting them. Lamar Williams read a roster of the dead and wounded and said, “I want to send my condolences.” He said the crimes were “a great misfortune for myself and the people I’m sending my commiserations to,” but added, “I know I’m innocent.”
The spate of shootings began in the early minutes of March 22, 2010, at a Congress Heights apartment complex. Police, prosecutors and trial witnesses told a story of appalling violence that unfolded over nine days and nights.
That morning, before having sex with a 15-year-old girl at a party, Sanquan Carter took off his bracelet, a band of gold-colored metal studded with tiny glass chips. Afterward, unable to find his wrist wear, he began accosting people who were socializing outside the building. They paid him little mind.
So Carter called for backup, reaching his older brother by cellphone and reporting the disrespect being shown to him at the party at 1333 Alabama Ave. SE. Orlando Carter was cruising in a sedan with 26-year-old Nathaniel Simms. Before hurrying to Sanquan Carter’s side, Orlando Carter and Simms made three quick stops.
They picked up Jeffrey Best at his home; they retrieved Orlando Carter’s AK-47-style assault rifle from a stash house; and they visited Lamar Williams, who lent them the rest of the firepower they would use to avenge the loss of a fashion accessory: a 12-gauge shotgun and a .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol.
At 1333 Alabama, Sanquan Carter wielded the handgun, Best the 12-gauge and Orlando Carter his rifle. Simms stayed in the car as the getaway driver while Best and the Carters menaced the folks in front of the building. When no one produced the missing bauble — the woman who had pocketed it was gone by then — they opened fire.
Evidence technicians later found 33 shell casings at the scene. In the indiscriminate fusillade, three men were hit, including the Jordan Howe, an aspiring prizefighter. Two of the victims survived. Howe, 20, did not.
“I visit his grave two or three times a week because I know that’s where I last saw the pallbearers lay my son Jordan’s body to rest,” Norman Williams told Beck. “That’s when it really hit me, and my whole world was changed forever.”
Sanquan Carter — who had stolen the bracelet from someone else two days before the party — missed the bloody fallout from Howe’s death. Identified by witnesses, he was arrested a day after the shooting. As detectives searched for evidence against the other suspects, a friend of Howe’s sought justice of his own, walking up to Orlando Carter on a street corner and pointing a pistol at his head.
The gun went off in the ensuing struggle, one round slamming into Carter’s right shoulder, another creasing his skull. The gunman fled. Unsure of the would-be killer’s identity, yet fairly certain of the motive for the attack, Carter planned blanket retribution — a drive-by massacre of mourners at Howe’s funeral.
But on March 30, 2010, the morning of the church service, Carter was delayed in renting the drive-by vehicle — a Chrysler van — because of a turned-down debit card. By the time he got the minivan later that day, the funeral was over. And there was another snag: The four-man crew was short one gun.
Best brought a 9mm pistol. Robert Bost, uninvolved in the earlier violence, showed up for the drive-by with a .45-caliber handgun. Simms carried the assault rifle, obtained from Lamar Williams, who had been hiding it since shortly after the Howe killing.
Carter needed a handgun. After driving to an apartment complex in Washington Highlands, he dispatched Best and Bost into a courtyard to steal a pistol from 17-year-old Tavon Nelson, who was known to carry one. Nelson saw them coming, though, and drew his weapon. Best and Bost fatally shot the youth. They neglected to grab his gun off the ground before running back to the van.
“You boys killed him,” Nelson’s mother, Michelle Nelson, said plaintively in court, staring at the defendants. “I will never hear him call for me again. Just tell me: Why?”
Minutes after Nelson’s killing, a few blocks away, the crew rolled up on a large group of Howe’s friends milling on the sidewalk and perched on the concrete steps outside a dilapidated brick house in the 4000 block of South Capitol Street SE.
It was just past 7:30 p.m. Most of them had attended the funeral that morning, including Davaughn Boyd and William Jones III, both 19, and 16-year-old Brishell Jones. Those three died in the spray of bullets — Best, Bost and Simms firing 23 shots as Carter, unarmed, watched from the driver’s seat.
Carter and Simms were captured after a wild police chase that night. Best and Bost were arrested days later, as was Lamar Williams. In a deal with prosecutors, Simms agreed to cooperate in the case and was allowed to plead guilty to five counts of second-degree murder, a lesser charge. He is to be sentenced in October.
“There is something called rehabilitation, but there also is something called no hope,” said Brishell’s mother, Nardine Jefferies. Speaking of the five men, she said, “You look into their eyes and you see emptiness.”