Two of three brothers involved in plotting an ambush of a Prince George's police station last year that resulted in an officer's death pleaded guilty Tuesday in the case spurred by the third brother's alleged shooting rampage.
A clear motive for the attack remains unknown, but during the plea hearing for Malik Ford, 22, and Elijah Ford, 19, prosecutors described discussions about how their brother's car and assets would be divvied if he were killed in the plot and their agreement to videotape his attack.
Prince George's County undercover detective Jacai Colson, 28, was killed by friendly fire when Colson arrived at the scene in civilian clothes as a host of police inside and outside the station responded to the Sunday afternoon shooting March 13, 2016.
Colson's parents sat in Prince George's County Circuit Court on Tuesday holding a framed photo of their son as the two brothers pleaded guilty to their roles.
Malik Ford pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree murder, use of a handgun in commission of a felony and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Elijah Ford pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
Michael Ford, 24, awaits trial for second-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
"This case has been extraordinarily difficult," Prince George's County State's Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks said after the hearing. "I don't know if there is any way we can make sense of this."
Prince George's County Police Chief Henry P. Stawinski III said that the incident was the "most difficult event" in his tenure and that the pleas do not "assuage our grief."
Michael Ford had told his brothers he wanted to be in a "shootout" with police, Deputy State's Attorney Carol A. Coderre said to Circuit Judge Lawrence V. Hill Jr. Ford also showed his brothers his handgun, displaying "not only his intent to follow through with this plan but also his ability," Coderre said.
Knowing that information, Coderre said, the brothers accompanied Michael Ford to carry out the plan.
Malik Ford drove the red Honda that Sunday while Michael Ford sat in the front passenger seat and Elijah Ford sat in the rear, prosecutors said.
Before the shootout, Elijah Ford recorded Michael Ford explaining who would get his belongings if he were to die in the shootout, which Coderre described as a "will" or "manifesto." Stawinski described the nature of these conversations as "transactional," which he said was "most chilling,"
"We're talking about conspiring to do violence and kill people," Stawinski said after the hearing.
After leaving the car, Michael Ford shot at an ambulance, other vehicles and the doors of the police station in Landover, Md., police allege. The shots drew several officers out of the building and into a gun battle, and amid the chaos Colson was fatally struck by friendly fire.
As these events unfolded, Malik Ford sat in the car with his hand outside, holding his cellphone to record the scene, Coderre said in court. Michael Ford had told at least one of his brothers to send the video they recorded to his girlfriend and to the popular entertainment website WorldstarHipHop, prosecutors previously said.
Police initially thought Malik and Elijah Ford were citizens unconnected to the incident when they were approached by officers near the shootout scene and the brothers said they knew nothing about the incident or the shooter's whereabouts, Coderre said.
Police have released images of the video that Malik and Elijah Ford recorded during the fatal gun battle, including an image police said shows Michael Ford pointing a gun at someone behind a police van, while one of his brothers is seen in a reflection in the rearview mirror sitting in the car.
The video evidence was turned over to police after a court order to retrieve that information, Coderre said. Michael Ford's family has said he suffers from bipolar disorder. He was deemed mentally fit for trial during a competency hearing in April.
As part of the plea agreements, Malik Ford could face a sentence of 50 years with all but 20 years suspended, and Elijah Ford could face a maximum sentence of 50 years with all but 12 years suspended. Their sentencings are set for May 4.
As officers trickled in before the hearing, they greeted Sheila Colson, Jacai Colson's mother, in the second row. Officers showed up at the hearing to "surround James and Sheila Colson with love," said John Teletchea, president of the Fraternal Order of Police for Prince George's County, who was also in court.
When Coderre began reviewing Malik Ford's role in the shooting plan, Sheila Colson looked down and rested her forehead on the framed photo of her son that she clutched.
Lynh Bui and Mandy McLaren contributed to this report.