Defendants Carried Out Murders in the District and Maryland, Including One of a Government Witness
WASHINGTON—Three men have been sentenced to life prison terms for federal racketeering conspiracy, murder and other charges stemming from their roles in a violent drug organization that was responsible for three murders in the District of Columbia and Prince George’s County, Maryland, including one of a government witness.
The sentences, which were imposed today and yesterday, were announced by Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia; James W. McJunkin, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office; Cathy L. Lanier, Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD); Mark A. Magaw, Chief of the Prince George’s County, Maryland Police Department; and Teresa Chambers, Chief of the U.S. Park Police.
The defendants were found guilty of numerous charges by a jury in April 2012 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, following a nine-week trial. They were sentenced by the Honorable Rosemary M. Collyer.
Mark Pray, 31, of Washington, D.C., was sentenced today to life in prison plus 130 years on 40 counts. Kenneth Benbow, 32, of Capitol Heights, Maryland, was sentenced today to life in prison plus 35 years on nine counts. Alonzo Marlow, 32, of Washington, D.C., was sentenced on June 21, 2012 to life in prison plus 55 years on 13 counts.
Six others earlier pled guilty to charges, and a seventh man pled guilty in a related case.
According to the government’s evidence, starting as early as 2006 and continuing until 2010, Pray led an organization that distributed large amounts of PCP, crack cocaine, cocaine, and marijuana in Barry Farm and elsewhere in the Washington, D.C. area. Pray enlisted family members, friends, and individuals known to him from Barry Farm and elsewhere to distribute controlled substances. Members of the Pray Drug Organization carried firearms to promote and protect the drug enterprise and its interests; committed, attempted, and threatened to commit acts of violence, including murder, to protect and expand the enterprise’s criminal operations, and promoted a climate of fear through violence and threats of violence. Marlow functioned as the group’s “enforcer.” Benbow was a close associate of both men in the enterprise.
“For the rest of their lives, these killers will awake every morning within the walls of a jail cell,” said U.S. Attorney Machen. “Life imprisonment is the only just response to these murderers’ disregard for human life, including Mark Pray and Alonzo Marlow’s attempt to protect their violent drug organization by killing a witness whose testimony revealed their criminality. Today’s sentences demonstrate that attempts to evade responsibility with violence will be met with swift and unmistakable justice.”
“Criminal enterprises, like the one that these individuals controlled, poison our streets with violence and intimidation,” said Assistant Director in Charge McJunkin. “Together with MPD and our other partners on the Safe Streets Task Force, the FBI remains dedicated to disrupting and dismantling such enterprises and bringing to justice those who commit acts of violence.”
“Not only did this sentencing take these violent criminals off the streets for life, they are being held accountable for the substantial amount of illegal drugs, weapons, murders, and the intimidation in our communities which their criminal activities cultivated,” said MPD Chief Lanier. “Today’s sentencing of these three men is another step forward in keeping the communities of Washington, D.C. safe.”
“This is a victory for all law enforcement, a well-deserved conviction and appropriate sentencing of these individuals. It sends a message that violent criminals will be held accountable,” said Prince George’s County Chief Magaw. “This verdict and sentencing make me proud that our agency was a part of the collaborative effort of the law enforcement and prosecutorial partners that made this transpire.”
“This case truly demonstrates that the hard work performed by so many dedicated law enforcement personnel, in conjunction with the persistence of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, will bring results in the justice system and provide the community with confidence in those that serve to protect them,” said Captain Art Jacobsen, Acting Commander of the Criminal Investigations Branch for the Washington Field Office of the U.S. Park Police.
Pray and Marlow were convicted of charges in the killing of the government witness, Crystal Washington, 44, who was shot to death April 10, 2009 in Northeast Washington. Ms. Washington was slain one business day before the start of a trial in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, during which she was to testify for the government against Pray and three other individuals. According to the government’s evidence, Marlow ambushed and killed Ms. Washington at Pray’s direction to prevent her from testifying in the case.
Pray and Marlow also were convicted of charges in the January 13, 2010 murder of Jheryl Hodge, 20, in Southeast Washington. Marlow, in consultation with Pray, shot Mr. Hodge several times, in broad daylight, in the middle of the Barry Farm neighborhood. Marlow and Pray murdered Mr. Hodge not for anything that he himself had done, but because of who he was: the relative of a rival of their drug enterprise.
Finally, Pray and Benbow were convicted of charges in the murder of Van Johnson Jr., 28, which took place September 24, 2008, in Prince George’s County. Pray and Benbow ambushed Mr. Johnson after following him from a nightclub. According to the government’s evidence, they believed that Mr. Johnson had been speaking badly of Benbow. The shooting also severely wounded a second man, who was in a coma for about one month after the attack.
This prosecution grew out of a long-term FBI/MPD/USPP alliance called the Safe Streets Task Force that targets violent drug trafficking gangs in the District of Columbia. The Safe Streets Initiative is funded in part by the Baltimore Washington High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area as well as the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. The Safe Streets Initiative involves more than 150 Safe Streets Task Forces around the country that combat street gangs by combining federal, state, and local police resources.
In announcing the sentences, U.S. Attorney Machen, Assistant Director in Charge McJunkin, Chief Lanier, Chief Magaw, and Chief Chambers thanked the many dedicated people who worked on the case from the FBI’s Washington Field Office, MPD, Prince George’s County Police Department, and the U.S. Park Police. They also thanked the U.S. Marshals Service for its assistance in the investigation.
They also acknowledged the work of those who handled the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Paralegals Brendan Tracz and Colin Rettamel; Legal Assistants Diane Brashears and Tammy Scott; Litigation Technology Specialist Ron Royal; and the Victim Witness Assistance Unit, including Witness Security Specialist Michael Hailey. They also expressed appreciation to Assistant U.S. Attorneys Seth Waxman and Michelle Zamarin, who participated in the investigation, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Scott L. Sroka and Nicholas Coleman, who provided assistance.
Finally, they thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew P. Cohen and Anthony Scarpelli, who investigated and tried the case.