Lennox Jones and Nardyne Jefferies speak to reportersPhotograph by Nikki Kahn/Getty Images. Next >>
after the death of their daughter, Brishell Jones.
Brishell, 16—who was shot in the head and shoulder—had dreamed of owning a restaurant.Photograph of Brishell courtesy of US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. Next >>
Brishell’s funeral in April 2010 was at Canaan Baptist Church in Northwest DC.Photograph by Nikki Kahn/Getty Images. Back to Start >>
Orlando had word that some of Jordan’s people were gathered after the funeral on a corner of South Capitol Street where they often hung out. He eased the van down the far side of the street and motioned out his window, to a small crowd wearing REST IN PEACE, JORDAN shirts. “Nate,” he said, “pick up that chopper.”
Orlando bucked a U-turn and rolled back up South Capitol. “When I pull over, have them guns hanging out the window,” he said. The van slowed, drifted to the curb, and stopped. “I lifted up the AK-47,” Nate testified. “I put it out the window. I leaned back ’cause Jeff was reaching across me, and I pulled the trigger. I ain’t even look. I just pulled the trigger.” Jeff, Nate, and Rob sprayed the crowd with gunfire. Hot casings rained onto the pavement.
Sixteen-year-old Brishell Jones caught a bullet in her right temple. It exited through her skull and passed through her shoulder like a skipping stone. Eighteen-year-old DaVaughn Boyd was shot in the back. Nineteen-year-old William “Marley” Jones III dropped to the ground with holes clean through his arm, leg, and forehead, a program from Jordan’s funeral still folded in his coat pocket. The way he fell back on the grass, his dreads were tangled around his face as if he’d been dancing.
Six others were wounded. Marley’s girlfriend, Tierra Brown, was hit below her knee; his little brother, 15-year-old JaBarie Smith, was hit in the right leg. Four more bullets found the brothers Kevin Attaway and Jamal Blakeney—Kevin would arrive at the hospital without a pulse and lose the front of his skull to an emergency craniectomy. Darrick Lanier was eating a steak-and-cheese from the carryout when a round went through his wrist. Seventeen-year-old Ra’Shauna Brown, Brishell’s best friend, was listening to her iPod when the grass started smoking. She came to on the ground, blood streaming from her shoulder and leg. Her 911 call was one long scream.
Orlando didn’t speed off. He lifted his mask and surveyed the damage: 15 seconds, 20. “Just looked,” Nate testified. “Just looked.”
Moments after they pulled away, Orlando saw a cop car waiting at a light, facing them. Orlando leaned back in his seat, trying to appear casual. It didn’t work—all of the Seventh District was on the lookout for the silver Town & Country—and the cruiser hit its siren. Orlando sped past the squad car and headed for I-295. “They comin’,” he said, stealing glances in the rearview mirror.
As the line of patrol cars chasing the minivan grew, Jeff asked Nate for a Newport. The two men smoked a last cigarette.
Nate carried two cell phones, and as the van sped back into Southeast, he used one to call Martaraina, at home with her kids, still waiting for him to return with her soap. “I did something stupid,” he said. “Open the door. I be down there.”
He used the other phone to call his girlfriend, Brittany Young. “I messed up,” he told her. “I did something stupid that I shouldn’t have never did. I probably won’t see you no more. And I’m sorry.” As she begged him to tell her what was happening, he slipped the phone, still on, into his pocket.
“We gonna have to get out and run,” Orlando announced. He pulled the minivan into an alley, slowed to let a cop car come alongside it, and then sideswiped the cruiser, trying to buy them a little space. He hit the brakes. The doors flew open.
Jeff, a star athlete for whom there was once talk of playing college basketball, took two steps and seemed to disappear, leaving behind only his jacket. Rob fled in the opposite direction and hopped a retaining wall behind Paramount Baptist Church, where later even a police dog couldn’t pick up his scent.
Police tackled and cuffed Orlando less than half a block from the van. Nate, bum knee and all, headed for Martaraina’s house three blocks away. He was on home turf. With an officer giving chase and Brittany listening on the phone, he tore through the alleys toward Chesapeake Street, scrambling over fences and across lawns. A squad car howled into his path, cutting him off. He lay down on the ground and placed his hands over his head, as if to pray.
• • •
Grief turned to rage in Southeast before the blood was dry on the pavement, and whatever detectives could do to round up evidence, they couldn’t do it fast enough. Three men were in custody: Nate Simms, Orlando Carter, and a 14-year-old boy named Malik Carter who’d been picked up near the bailout and identified by two police sergeants as the driver of the minivan.
teen getaway driver is brother of se shooting suspect, Channel 9 announced on its website, citing anonymous sources who claimed that the boy was “remorseful” and had been “duped into giving his brother and friends a ride.”
The prosecutors assigned to the case—Michael Brittin and Bruce Hegyi—were struggling to cobble together even a basic narrative of the crime. “When you get an investigation like this,” Brittin says, “you very much want to see the big picture, but you can’t, because it’s too early. All you know is you’ve got bodies strewn all about the street.”
They got a breakthrough when Jim Williams, a veteran criminal-defense lawyer, contacted their office. His client, Nathaniel Simms, was willing to talk.
Incredulous, Hegyi and Brittin hurried to police headquarters. They thought highly of Williams, but his client had to understand that debriefing with prosecutors was an all-or-nothing proposition.
Nate would screw himself royally by withholding any details or backing out later. If he was going to sing, the government was going to make him do Wagner.
• • •
In fact, Jim Williams was as surprised as anyone. He’d met Nate a week earlier in the crowded jail bullpen. “I’ve been asked by the court to try to help you,” he told his client, slipping him a card.
When they sat down a few days later, Williams launched into his standard spiel: Don’t talk on the jail phones, don’t discuss your case with anyone. “And I think he was hearing, ‘Blah, blah, blah, blah,’ because he turns to me and says, ‘Man, what can I do to make this right?’ ”
Williams couldn’t recall working with a client whose first instinct wasn’t to minimize his exposure. But he did as asked and arranged a meeting with the prosecutors.
A team of investigators crammed into a small conference room at police headquarters. One of the first things Nate told them was perhaps the most surprising: Malik Carter, the 14-year-old, had nothing to do with the shooting. The government’s working theory—the kid’s name was Carter, after all, and he’d run at the sight of the cops—now had an ugly hole in it. “Mike Brittin’s jaw was on the floor,” Williams says.
Nate gave up Jeff, Rob, and Lamar. His mind was sharp, good with times and places, addresses and phone numbers.
“We’re testing him,” Hegyi says. “We know he’s going to get cross-examined hard. He’s no good to us if he goes up and falls apart like a piece of wet tissue paper.”
The prosecutors were won over. “When he started talking about that AK-47,” Hegyi says, “the tears were just streaming down his face. He said, ‘It was me. It was me. I did it.’ ”
Nate was pulled from the DC jail and spirited out of the District. The US Attorney’s Office, meanwhile, was preparing to exonerate Malik Carter. Concerned that the announcement would throw Southeast into a tailspin—if the police couldn’t lock this thing down, someone was going to pick up a gun and settle it himself—Hegyi and Brittin were eager to make more arrests.
By late April, Jeff, Rob, and Lamar were all in custody. Prosecutors approached their attorneys with talk of a plea deal; they wanted a second cooperator, to make a tighter case.
Lamar was their best candidate. He had never pulled a trigger, and he had a shorter criminal record than the others. A talented drummer and disciplined student, he’d graduated from high school in 11th grade and gone on to Shaw University in North Carolina. He might have become something. But when you’re 21 years old, a term of 30 or 40 years can look like a death sentence. Instead, you take your chances, seal your lips, and hope to draw a friendly jury.