A long-standing gang rivalry in Columbia Heights/ Adams Morgan is now at the center of a DC murder trial stretching into its fourth month of testimony.
Over the past two weeks, a former member of one of those gangs has detailed the relationships — and beefs — that brought the two groups together and broke them apart.
Alleged gang members — Keir Johnson, Lester Williams, Robert Givens and Marcellus Jackson — 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.
For six days, Ricardo Epps, a witness for the government, has testified about his life as a member of “G-Rod,” a group of “20 or so members” living near 14th and Girard Street Northwest.
“We robbed together. We knocked out white guys together. We stayed together,” he said of his participation with the group.
Epps, 24, is a former codefendant in the case. He was initially charged in a 47-page indictment with eight counts of conspiracy, obstruction and felony violent misdemeanor offenses in connection with his participation in crimes committed by G-Rod. Epps was arrested on December 5, 2011 and admitted to being deceptive or “playing,” with investigators during his initial interview.
“I wasn’t being truthful about a lot of things, but I was about some things,” Epps said while on the stand.
On December 12, 2011, Epps agreed to testify in the case as part of a plea offer and says he has told the truth since then. Epps pleaded guilty in January 2012 to three charges: conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice, and affiliation with a street gang.
During trial, Epps told jurors that before he joined G-Rod, he was a member of a crew known as “1-7,” and would hang with Coates and other members of the crew near 17th and Euclid Street Northwest.
Epps said that when he joined the 1-7 crew they had “beef” with G-Rod, but “it wasn’t too serious at the time.”
That changed when Phil Thompkins, a member of 1-7, got in a fight with Johnson, Epps said, adding that after that fight the rivalry intensified.
In August 2007, Epps said, 1-7 members shot and killed a member of G-Rod, Tayon Glover, in the 1400 block of Girard Street Northwest. After the shooting, Epps recalls saying the shooting “wasn’t a good idea. It wasn’t right.
“I wanted the beef to stop,” Epps said. “I told them it’s only a matter of time; members of G-Rod are going to retaliate.”
Epps said he then began to distance himself from 1-7 and he stopped committing crimes with the crew. When Darrell Goins, who Epps said was a member of 1-7, was murdered in December 2008, Epps said he thought the crew blamed him for Goins death, claiming that the crew thought he “set him up” to get shot by G-Rod members.
Prosecutors have not argued that Goins was affiliated with any group.
Shortly after, Epps said he began to hang out with a member of G-Rod, Lafonte Carlton.
By March 2009, Epps considered himself a member of G-Rod, and told jurors that he became close with the co-defendants.
In court, Epps said that when Carlton was jailed in March 2009, Epps would call him to keep him updated on G-Rod matters. Often, the two men talked about criminal activities, including drug activity and shootings.
Epps told jurors that Coates was “one of the main dudes of the 1-7 crew.” Epps said he called Carlton to tell him that Coates had been murdered.
“That’s a big loss for them,” Carlton is heard saying in a jail call played in court Thursday. “He was their heart.”
According to Epps, Johnson and Williams went into hiding up to a year following Coates’ murder. Epps recalls that he could not even reach them by phone, and that Johnson’s cell phone number had been unreachable.
It wouldn’t be until December 2011, after Epps was arrested in the case, that he would see or talk to the two defendants again. Epps currently awaits sentencing in a separate “cooperator wing,” at the Central Detention Facility where he gets to hug his family when they visit.
Megan Arellano and Kristian Hernandez contributed to this story.
This story has been revised to clarify Darrell Goins’ connections to the neighborhood groups.