Members of a street gang that operated near 14th and Girard streets in Northwest D.C. were “not content to live in the neighborhood they were from,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Gee told jurors Wednesday in opening arguments, beginning a trial of four co-defendants charged with three murders. Instead, Gee said, they “wanted power.”
The four men are charged with 80 criminal counts including conspiracy, first-degree murder, obstruction of justice, assault, and weapons charges related to the deaths of Paul Jones, Sean Robinson and Jamal Coates.
“G-Rod exists to control the neighborhood,” Gee told the jury. “Members of G-Rod commit robberies, sell drugs, put together money to buy and sell together.” But after a series of “petty arguments,” people started getting hurt, and the retaliation became central to “G-Rod,” Gee said.
Johnson’s defense attorney, Janai Reed, warned jurors not to “take cultural differences as a crime.” Reed noted that evidence from the government includes a rap music video that members of “G-Rod” recorded.
“Participating in rap music videos is not a crime,” Reed said. “Living in a neighborhood with a name that existed before you lived there is not a crime.”
Instead, Reed instructed jurors to look for “evidence you actually need” to link Johnson to the charges he faces.
Documents in the case allege that on January 9, 2009, 17-year-old Jones was “chased, shot, and killed” by members of G-Rod.
Givens and Jackson are charged with the murder of Sean Robinson, another alleged member of a rival gang, who was shot and killed in August 2010. Gee told jurors that Robinson was talking with a two teens in a school parking lot on August 11 when he was “chased down” and shot multiple times.
Johnson and Williams are charged with the September 2010 murder of Coates, who was shot and killed while leaving a friend’s funeral in the U Street corridor. Gee told jurors that Coates was shot at least twice in a car belonging to a rival gang member, including one shot to the back of the head that “severed his brain” almost instantly.
Attorney Kevin Oliver, representing Williams, reserved the right to make his opening statement after the government has presented its case.
The trial will resume Thursday in Judge Lynn Leibowitz’s courtroom.