On Friday, the second of two men charged in the case was convicted in D.C. Superior Court. Benito Valdez, 47, of Arlington, was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder, kidnapping and sodomy while armed after a three-week trial. A co-defendant, Michael Green, 46, of Northeast Washington, had previously pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the deaths. Prosecutors said the men are onetime drug dealers who controlled that park during the crack epidemic of the late 1980s and mid-1990s.
Family members of the victims, many of whom sat in court each day, said the arrests, trial and conviction have brought what they have waited 27 years for: justice and answers.
“This has been very devastating. But at least we are finally getting closure. And I finally get to learn why — why were they killed?” said Pixley’s sister Sandra, 64.
During parts of the trial before Judge Judith Bartnoff, family members of the victims rushed out of the courtroom in tears as crime-scene photos of the three bodies were displayed.
The April 23, 1991, killings occurred in Langdon Park, in the 1800 block of Franklin Street NE. The park is now home to the Chuck Brown memorial, a tribute to the District’s late godfather of go-go music.
Neighbors reported hearing a volley of shots, and a passer-by found the bodies hours later on a grassy slope. In the violence of the crack cocaine epidemic, the city had the dubious distinction of being the nation’s “murder capital.” The city recorded 489 killings that year and has changed dramatically since. Last year, there were 116 killings.
Prosecutors based their case against Valdez largely on the testimony of four witnesses, including one of Valdez’s former girlfriends, who said he had admitted to them over the years that he had killed the three. Authorities also found Valdez’s DNA on Gillard’s jacket.
But some of the most compelling testimony came from Green, who had agreed to a plea deal and testified against his longtime friend.
Green told the jury that he was with Valdez that April day when Valdez, angry because he believed that Pixley or Simmons had stolen a piece of crack cocaine from him, shot the three, emptying one gun and then using a second.
Green in recent years sometimes worked as an electrician but also admitted to occasionally selling drugs until his arrest. In June, he pleaded guilty to three counts of manslaughter in the deaths of Simmons, Pixley and Gillard. He also pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a separate case, the stabbing of a man in a 1999 drug dispute over $3.
Wearing a D.C. jail jumpsuit as he testified, Green explained that he and Valdez sold drugs in the park around the time of the murders. Valdez was known around the District as someone who carried large guns to protect his territory, Green and other witnesses testified.
Simmons and Pixley walked into the park, Green testified, to buy drugs that spring day and left Gillard sitting alone in the car. When Valdez handed three rocks of cocaine to Pixley so he could examine the product, Pixley handed only two of the rocks back, Green said.
Thinking the men were trying to steal from him, Valdez became angry. He and Green pulled out their guns. At the same time, Gillard, frustrated that Pixley and Simmons were taking so long, came into the park to look for them.
Green testified that he stood holding a gun over Simmons and Pixley as the two knelt and that Valdez walked Gillard further into the park, where he forced her to perform oral sex.
Green said Valdez then returned with Gillard and ordered the three to lie side by side. It was then, Green said, Valdez opened fire.
“They laid down next to each other and pleaded for their lives, over a rock of cocaine,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Bach told the jury during her closing arguments. “Their lives were worth more than a $20 rock.”
Madalyn Harvey, Valdez’s public defender, repeatedly argued that Green made up the story in hopes of securing favor from prosecutors and a lighter prison sentence.
Harvey also noted that another man’s DNA was also found on Gillard’s jacket. The identify of that man was never learned.
Valdez is set to be sentenced April 13.