It was no secret that Cherrie Gammon, a dancer at Baltimore's Club Pussycat, was sleeping with a city police officer, according to trial testimony. But when a drug boss on The Block was arrested, Gammon worried that the relationship and her alleged side job as a drug dealer would make her look like a "snitch."
"It was a soap opera down there," Yoo Jin Kim, who worked with Gammon at the club, said in court last week.
The drama became deadly for Gammon shortly after she shared her fears with Kim in late 2010. On Wednesday, a federal jury convicted Tyrone Johniken on drug, racketeering and murder conspiracy charges for his role in the organization and Gammon's killing, wrapping up a nearly two-year investigation.
"This has been the longest two years of my life," said Jennifer Gammon, Cherrie Gammon's sister. "I'm glad it's over with and my sister gets the justice she deserves."
Kim referred to the officer only by a nickname in her testimony, and a department spokesman declined to discuss his identity.
Johniken, 30, was accused of being part of a
McCants pleaded guilty to racketeering and drug charges in early October but was not implicated in Gammon's murder. Baker and Cromartie pleaded guilty to racketeering and murder-conspiracy charges. Baker also pleaded guilty to a gun charge and Cromartie to a drug charge.
Johniken's attorney, Robert H. Waldman, had argued that the murder evidence against his client was slight.
"The jury has spoken," he said after the trial. "My client, a homeless guy, fell in with these people and look where it got him."
Attorneys for the other three defendants did not respond to requests for comment.
A state murder charge against Johniken, filed under the name Hassan Muhammed, was dropped in early 2011. Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said the conspiracy charges and resources available to federal investigators allowed them to go after the entire drug organization and build the case.
"The ability to prosecute for conspiracy and for racketeering allows us to prosecute and convict very dangerous criminals when some of the individual crimes might be difficult to prove, such as the murder," he said.
Trial testimony painted a picture of a long-running, highly profitable drug organization. The crew sold drugs out of a fried-chicken carryout near Baltimore police headquarters.
In court filings, prosecutors laid out a theory that the 25-year-old, who used the stage name Chloe when she danced at the club, was killed over a debt she owed to the drug organization and because its members worried she might be supplying information to the police.
Police often stumbled on the organization doing deals during regular patrols — once when police tried to arrest Johniken in the carryout, an officer who had been there only to buy lottery tickets testified that he ended up at Maryland Shock Trauma Center with a concussion. But McCants' October 2010 arrest was different.
Then, officers marched into the carryout and straight up to McCants. The way she seemed to be targeted raised suspicion, and Johniken's ex-girlfriend Marquise White, 20, testified that Johniken and Baker swiftly decided "someone had to rat her out."
According to documents in the case, the officer Gammon had a relationship with was later involved in a raid on a building that was used by the crew and Johniken's residence. But whether Gammon was cooperating with police remains unclear. Officer Winfred Murphy testified that a "citizen" tipped police off to McCants.
Agent Kevin Simmons said he found Gammon wandering along the edge of Leakin Park, and when he approached her he realized she had "blood gushing from her chest." She had been shot five times and died of her wounds in the hospital a few hours later.
News of Gammon's murder got back to The Block quickly.
Kim, from the club, testified through tears that a man who worked in the morgue and was an occasional customer at the club came in the next day and told her he had seen Gammon's body,
He had recognized the dead dancer by her distinctive nipple piercings, Kim said.