Sign up for our newsletters   

Baltimore City Paper home.
Print Email

Mobtown Beat

Snitched out

A Westport man's murder may have been retaliation for talking to the FBI

Kareem Kelly Guest

By Van Smith | Posted 6/9/2010

Kareem Kelly Guest, a 29-year-old Westport resident, was no saint. He'd been charged dozens of times in state court for crimes typical of those in the drug game. He was convicted in several cases, though his sentences were lenient and involved little jail time. But on Jan. 9, 2008, Guest did something that may have helped end his life: He sat down with federal law-enforcers and answered questions about what he knew about drug dealing in his neighborhood.

Twenty months later, after documents proving Guest's cooperation started showing up on the streets of Westport last summer, Guest was shot dead. Who shot him and why remain unknown, though aspects of law enforcers' efforts to answer those questions surfaced on June 1, when an obstruction-of-justice indictment was unsealed in U.S. District Court against Raine Zircon Curtis, an alleged witness to Guest's murder.

The 14-page Curtis indictment illustrates the pitfalls and dangers of seeking justice in Baltimore, where anti-snitching culture is rooted deep and wide. It also provides a glimpse into the frailties of criminal prosecutions built on cooperating witnesses.

The document resulting from Guest's January 2008 interview--a nine-page FBI form called a "302"--was provided to lawyers for two defendants in a federal drug case last summer, because Guest was a potential prosecution witness in the expected trial, the Curtis indictment explains. Shortly thereafter, copies of Guest's 302 were floating around Westport--proof that Guest was a snitch.

On the night of Sept. 20, 2009, on a walkway that crosses Maisel Street, three blocks from where he lived, Kareem Guest was killed in a hail of bullets that struck him in the head and body.  

The presence of Guest's actual 302 on the streets of Westport--and the Curtis indictment says Guest's was not the only one that was "distributed and displayed throughout the Westport community" --is particularly troubling to Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein. "We do know the interview report was released," Rosenstein says in a telephone interview about the Guest case, "which would be a violation of the discovery agreement" with defense counsel.

Discovery agreements dictate how prosecutors will share evidence with the defense, Rosenstein explains, and sharing the information can be "a difficult balance for the prosecutors," who need to protect witnesses while also providing the defense with evidence that will be used at trial.

"There are risks when providing discovery," Rosenstein continues, because "it exposes witnesses to potential retaliation, so we tend to provide the documents about witnesses close to the trial date, when we know that we plan to use them. But this is done with the express agreement that defense counsel won't further disclose the reports to their clients. We haven't reached any conclusions about what happened in this case, but the reports did get released, and that's a violation."

City Paper asked Michael Carithers and David R. Solomon, the two criminal-defense attorneys who received discovery in the case, including Guest's 302, to comment for this article. Solomon explained that he "never gave" his client "any documents because that would be a breach of the discovery agreement," though he did "share with him orally" what the documents contained, which is allowed. Carithers did not respond to a phone message or a detailed e-mail by press time.

Andrew White, a former assistant U.S. attorney who now represents criminal defendants in federal court, says the circumstances of Guest's case are "precisely why defense attorneys are not allowed to give discovery or give reports to a client. There is a great degree of trust placed in a defense attorney not to leak out information that can lead to retaliation."

The day after Guest was killed, the Curtis indictment explains, the FBI and a federal grand jury opened investigations into Guest's murder, with an eye to proving that it was done in retaliation for his cooperation in the drug case. The investigation involved "interviews and testimony of numerous individuals in an attempt to identify witnesses and persons with knowledge" about Guest's killing, the indictment says. One of those individuals was Curtis, who, the indictment alleges, stonewalled under questioning in classic anti-snitching style, denying any direct knowledge of Guest's murder.

On Feb. 4, Curtis was called to testify before the grand jury and, according to the indictment, she made numerous false statements. Despite testifying otherwise, the indictment explains, Curtis "witnessed the murder of Kareem Guest, who was shot within her presence and view" while she "was with a person known to her as Seattle," who "was also present" at the murder with "an associate known to the defendant as Avery," who "was also a witness to the murder."

On Feb. 24, Curtis was interviewed by FBI agents, and, again, according to the indictment, she lied. In that round of questioning, Curtis allegedly stated falsely that she knew nothing about Guest's murder, that she did not witness it or hear the gunfire, that she was not at the scene with Seattle, that she only saw Seattle in another part of Westport that night, when he was alone, and that she only learned of the murder later that night at a friend's house.

A sample of Curtis' demeanor is provided in this portion of the transcript of her grand-jury testimony, included in the indictment: "I have some information that you were . . . near the scene of the shooting when it happened," the unnamed prosecutor asks, to which Curtis answers, "OK." Then the prosecutor asks, "So what do you have to say about that?" and Curtis responds, "Nothing."

On June 1, the same day that Curtis' indictment was unsealed, another indictment was unsealed. One of three defendants charged with the April 17 armed robbery of a drug dealer is Robert "Seattle" Jones. According to court documents, on Feb. 23, the day before Curtis' FBI interview, the FBI obtained a seizure warrant for Jones' DNA, indicating that they wanted it to compare to DNA evidence in an unspecified witness-murder investigation. Two days later, Jones' saliva was collected. Since Jones hasn't been charged in Guest's murder, Jones' DNA presumably didn't match DNA evidence collected in the Guest investigations. 

More recently, Jones' name surfaced in court documents related to the April drug-dealing indictment of alleged members of the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang ("Inside Out," Mobtown Beat, Apr. 14). One of the informants in the case provided investigators with Jones' name and phone number, identifying him as an alleged BGF member.

While Jones is no stranger to the criminal-justice system--though only 23 years old, he's already been convicted in state court of assault, armed robbery, and drug dealing--Curtis, who is 30, is a neophyte as a criminal defendant. The charges against her are serious enough that, despite no criminal record, she's being detained pending trial. As of press time, she has no attorney on record, and she could not be reached for comment.

Rosenstein says the lesson he hopes the public will take from Curtis' indictment is that when authorities "are investigating a witness murder, people who obstruct the investigation should expect to be prosecuted." As for the apparent violation of the discovery agreement, leading to copies of Guest's 302 appearing in Westport, Rosenstein says the experience "will make us even more cautious" in crafting discovery agreements that seek to protect witnesses against possible retaliation.

Related stories

Mobtown Beat archives

More Stories

Blunderbusted (8/5/2010)
Two Maryland Men indicted in Arizona for illegal machine guns

The Big Hurt (8/4/2010)
Inmate claims gang-tied correctional officer ordered "hit"

Murder Ink (7/28/2010)

More from Van Smith

Blunderbusted (8/5/2010)
Two Maryland Men indicted in Arizona for illegal machine guns

The Big Hurt (8/4/2010)
Inmate claims gang-tied correctional officer ordered "hit"

Not a Snitch (7/22/2010)
Court filing mistakenly called murdered activist an informant, police say

Comments powered by Disqus
Calendar
CP on Facebook
CP on Twitter