"All this violence was because of a piece of costume jewelry," said Assistant US Attorney Michael D. Brittin as he opened the government's case against five men he accused of causing mayhem in a neighborhood of Southeast Washington that resulted in the 14 shootings, including 5 deaths in March of 2010.
The story started March 21 when murder defendant Sanquan Carter, then 19, and murder victim Jordan Howe, 20, went out to pick up girls. They ended up back in Howe's apartment building having sex with them. The prosecutor said Carter at some point, took off his bracelet which was covered with fake diamonds, and left it in the bedroom.
When he later returned for it, it wasn't there and he became frantic in his anger trying to find it, according to the prosecutor, believing someone in the borrowed apartment had stolen it.
The prosecutor said on March 22, Sanquan Carter called his older brother Orlando Carter, telling him that someone at the apartment had robbed him. Minutes later, Orlando appeared with several other men, who are now also defendants, and several weapons including an AK47 assault rifle and a .380 semi-automatic pistol.
Prosecutors say Sanquan grabbed the pistol and held it on people he suspected outside the apartment building, began patting them down looking for his bracelet. When he didn't find it, Sanquan stepped back, said the prosecutor, and he and his brother opened fire on the people standing in front of the building.
Orlando allegedly shot 28 rounds from the assault rifle. Sanquan allegedly shot five times from the pistol. Police say that another defendant, Jeffrey Best, tried to fire a borrowed 12-gauge shotgun, but only ejected three unfired shells, and prosecutors say they fled in a car driven by Nathaniel Simms.
Simms has turned state's evidence and is the main accuser against the rest. He has pleaded guilty, already, to five murder charges and conspiracy. Much of the prosecutions chain of events is based on statements of Simms who was a close friend of the Carters. Defense attorneys argue Simms is lying to try to help himself.
The shooting left Jordan Howe dead and two visitors to the apartment building, Victor Martin and Tavon Lambert, wounded. Prosecutors then say Howe's friends and acquaintences were bent on revenge said the prosecutor. Police say one friend, Andre Morgan, ran to Howe after the shooting and found his hand covered in blood.
"He said he would not wash it off until he had struck back at Sanquan and Orlando Carter," Brittin told the jury.
Before anyone could strike, police had Sanquan in custody on the morning of March 23 for the murder of Jordan Howe. But by that evening, Howe's associates learned that Orlando was at 6th and Chesapeake Streets in front of Dee's Barbershop and they were on the way to retaliate.
The prosecutor said they parked in an alley, one got out and with a .357 revolver walked up to Orlando Carter, put the gun to his head and started pulling the trigger. The first and second time the gun did not fire. The third time it did, grazing Orlando's head. The fouth time the bullet lodged in Orlando Carter's shoulder, after which the shooter fled.
Carter stumbled across the street and flagged down a friend, the prosecutor said, who took the then 20 year old to United Medical Center, where he was flown to MedStar. He was released later that night. The head wound was not serious and the doctors decided to leave the shoulder bullet where it was.
But by now, said the prosecutor, Orlando was already on his cell phone plotting his revenge on friends of Jordan Howe. He decided to show up at Howe's funeral, "to shoot as many people as he could. He didn't care whether they were young or old, men or women, black or white, " Brittin told the jury.
The prosecutor then described a series of events in which Orlando worked to find the funeral location, guns and associates to help him carry out the attack, masks and a rented vehicle to hide their identities to try to prevent capture by police or retaliation. What hindered him most, said the prosecutor, was renting a vehicle.
He wasn't able to find someone with adequate credit to rent one for him until late on March 30 when the funeral of Jordan Howe was already over, said Brittin.
But once Orlando Carter had the minivan, he picked up co-defendants Jeffrey Best and Robert Bost both 23 and Nathaniel Simms. They also got the guns from Lamar Smith, 23, a fifth defendant who's role was providing guns to the shooters.
According to the prosecutor, Carter and his co-conspiriators found out that many of the mourners who had attended Jordan Howe's funeral were gathered at a teen hangout at the corner South Capitol and Brandywine . The prosecutor said Orlando and his group were one gun short: four potential shooters, but only three guns: the AK47 and two pistols.
So they decided to rob 17-year-old Tavon Nelson, who lived in the neighborhood and was known to have a gun. The prosecutor said Orlando Carter, through cell phone calls, found out where Nelson was and drove over in the mini van to the Wingate, a huge gated complex, not far from South Capitol Street.
He sent Best and Bost to rob Nelson, said the prosecutor, but the pair donned their masks and carried their pistols in the open as they approached Nelson, who saw them and immediately went for his gun. They shot him first, then fled back to the minivan, without Nelson's gun, Brittin said.
Brittin said a furious Carter decided not to wait around for the police and went to shoot up the corner without the fourth gun. He said Carter approached the corner going south on South Capitol street, drove past the crowd and made a U-turn one block down, then lowered all the windows in the mini van as he pulled up to the corner and stopped.
Then, with the assult rifle and two other guns, they began shooting into the crowd, the prosecutor said. 16-year-old Brishell Jones was shot in the head and killed, as was 18-year-old William "Marley" Jones (no relation). 18-year-old DeVaughn Boyd was also killed. Six others -- all teens or 20 somethings - were wounded: JaBarie Smith, Ra'Shauna Brown, Darrick Lanier, Tierra Brown, Jamal Blakeney, and Kevin Blakeney.
Prosecutors showed the jurors photographs of he carnage. Blood was splattered all over the sidewalk, young teens sat holding their limbs and what brought sounds of weeping among spectators was a photo of young William Jones eyes open lying in blood.
Brittin said only five minutes had lapsed between the shooting of Tavon Nelson at the Wingate and the massacre on South Capitol. But it was enough time for a description to get to police about the van used in the Nelson shooting and as Carter's group fled from the South Capitol scene in the silver Chrysler Town and Country mini van, police were on the lookout for it from the Wingate shooting.
Two D.C. police sergeants heading south of South Capitol then spotted the van heading north and the chase was on. It was a 14-mile high-speed chase that ended in the Washington Highlands complex. The prosecutor said Carter rammed a police car, crashing the van. Poilce say he tried to flee but was caught.
That's the story the government told in a packed courtroom at D.C. Superior Court. Security is tight for what is expected to be a three to four month trial. Spectators must not only clear security to enter the building, but they must also be screened before they can enter courtroom 302.
The defendants, Sanquan Carter, Orlando Carter, Jeffrey Best, Robert Bost and Lamar Williams, each have their own attorneys. Two attorneys in addition to Michael Brittin sit on the prosecution's side.
As for that costume jewelry bracelet that launched all this trouble, someone had taken it. She was one of the woman Shaquan and Jordan had picked up for sex that night. When she left she took it home with her.
After she heard what had happened because of it, she turned it over to D.C. police hours after the first shooting. When Shaquan Carter was arrested, prosecutor Brittin said, he was wearing a ring that matched the bracelet.