Kareem Guest ignored the "stop snitching" credo, and authorities say his candid chatter to the FBI about drug dealers got him killed. The woman police say saw him get shot won't talk about it, and prosecutors have charged her with lying to a grand jury and want her imprisoned for 30 years.
It is at first glance an all-too-familiar and tragic tale of witness intimidation and a demonstration of the collateral damage of Baltimore's epic drug war, but with a sardonic twist: The silence of one witness has thwarted efforts to make an arrest in the silencing of another.
Authorities say they caught Raine Zircon Curtis bragging on a cell phone to her imprisoned boyfriend: "Kareem got killed last night. They killed that boy while we was right there. … We was standing right there." Yet to a grand jury, she denied seeing anything, court documents say.
As a result, Guest's execution-style slaying in September 2009 on a walkway known as "the blacktop" in South Baltimore's Westport neighborhood has gone unsolved, and for FBI agents who protect their informants like one of their own, it has gone unavenged.
Authorities say that a defense attorney gave his client's mother a copy of Guest's statement, which was distributed in Westport and might have been the reason Guest was outed and killed.
Defense attorneys have argued that witnessing the killing of a witness might understandably make one hesitant to become a witness. But Assistant U.S. Attorney John F. Purcell Jr. wrote in court documents that Curtis was not being obstinate out of fear and should be held in jail pending trial on a rarely used perjury charge.
"Outside the grand jury, the defendant has expressed pride in her refusal to cooperate with authorities," Purcell wrote. "The defendant's refusal is based on her disregard for Guest and his family, her obvious contempt for the justice system and her overarching loyalty to the code of the streets."
The prosecutor charged that Curtis "has expressed pride in not being a 'snitch,' " and considered the perjury charge "a joke."
Curtis' attorney, Joseph Murtha, has asked a federal judge to reconsider holding his client without bail until her trial, and a hearing has been scheduled July 9 in U.S. District Court. Murtha declined to comment on the case.
Guest, 31, was shot repeatedly in the head and chest on Sept. 20, 2009, at 10 p.m. He collapsed on Maisel Court, near where he had lived with his mother, and died 36 minutes later at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
In one of those familiar bloody Baltimore weekends, he was one of 13 people shot over two days — one more name on a burgeoning list noting the violence but saying virtually nothing of the circumstances.
City police and the news media (though the City Paper profiled the case this month) initially dismissed Guest as a routine victim, a man on probation for drugs, leaving the impression that he was killed, like many others, in some sort of petty dispute over heroin.
The FBI knew better.
Guest, despite his personal battle with drugs, or perhaps to get favorable consideration on pending charges, sat down with FBI agents in January 2008 and provided enough information to fill nine typewritten pages describing the intricate life of slinging heroin called "Dynasty" on Westport streets.
The tips helped the FBI arrest eight people seven months later sporting nicknames like Playboy, Pooh, Marly Mar and Fingers. By May 2009, six had pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges, including ringleader Jamal Stewart, who is serving a 22-year prison sentence.
Two others demanded trials, and federal prosecutors had to give Guest's statement to their defense attorneys as part of a process called discovery, to give attorneys a chance to prepare their cases and research potential witnesses. Just before the trial, in June 2009, those two men pleaded guilty as well.
That spared Guest from having to testify in public.
But it wouldn't spare him apparent retribution on the street.
"By then … the damage that led to the murder of Kareem Guest had already been done," federal prosecutors said in court papers.
Two defense lawyers had Guest's statement. The prosecutors wrote that one of the attorneys gave the documents to his jailed client and to his client's mother. It was done, prosecutor Purcell said in court documents, "without permission from the U.S. attorney's office and in direct violation of the discovery agreement put in place to prevent these very sorts of disclosures."
Purcell wrote that the documents were "distributed and displayed … throughout Westport" and that "several individuals confronted Guest" about what he had told the police. Guest was killed three months after his statement first started appearing on the streets.
Prosecutors don't specifically name the two attorneys who got the forms. But they said in court documents that they did not give them to the six attorneys whose clients had pleaded guilty by May 2009 because their cases ended before trial dates were set.
The documents were given to two attorneys whose clients held out until June, prosecutors said. Court records show those defendants as Larry Cheese, represented by attorney Michael Carithers, and Elliot Brown, represented by attorney David R. Solomon.
Carithers left his Baltimore law firm and could not be reached for comment. Phone numbers to his house and cell phone have been disconnected.
Solomon said in an interview that he reviewed Guest's statement with his client, which is permissible, but said that "under no circumstances did I give him any of the paperwork." Solomon also said he has talked with prosecutors and has been "cleared of any wrongdoing."
It is not clear whether distributing copies of the FBI statements is a crime or would be considered a breach of ethical conduct.
Federal prosecutors declined to comment, and a spokeswoman for the Maryland U.S. attorney's office would not say whether defense attorneys are being investigated. The spokeswoman, Marcia Murphy, did say that no attorney has been charged in connection with the case.
Meanwhile, authorities are still trying to determine who killed their star witness.