A few weeks before his federal trial on murder and conspiracy charges, a shirtless Demetrice “Respect” Devine stood for a series of photographs while he waited behind bars.
Across his stomach, the 37-year-old had inked “Black Mob Gangtas,” the Bloods-affiliated gang Devine is accused of leading into drug trafficking and murder throughout Southeast Raleigh.
On his back, he wore the letters “UBN,” or United Blood Nation, FBI special agent Robert Richards testified in federal court in Raleigh Tuesday afternoon.
And on his bicep, Devine sported the initials SSA. At one point, Richards said, the alleged head of the Black Mob Gangstas told him the letters stood for “South Side Achievers.”
But Richards recognized a more ominous acronym. “I had heard it referred to as South Side Assassins,” he said.
On Wednesday, Devine and co-defendant Brandon “B-Easy” Mangum faced new evidence linking them to a pair of decade-old murders in Southeast Raleigh, both of which led to vigils and anti-gang rallies in the communities east of downtown.
In a 2017 indictment, prosecutors accuse Devine of “aiding, abetting, counseling, commanding, inducing, procuring and causing” the shooting death of 16-year-old Adarius Fowler, whom police described as being involved with Bloods himself. At the time, his 2008 killing marked the third homicide on the 300 block of Tarboro Street in as many years.
On Wednesday, his mother Christina Fowler tearfully remembered her oldest child as an A/B honor student who had gotten in some trouble in school but nothing she recognized as serious.
“I don’t know nothing about no gangs,” said Fowler, who works as a certified nursing assistant in Raleigh. “Now I want to know the truth.”
The same indictment accuses Mangum, 31, of shooting Rodriguez Burrell on his father’s porch on the 500 block of Haywood Street, which prosecutors describe as the gang’s home turf. Witnesses have said Burrell went by the street name “Re-Up” and belonged to Nine Trey, a rival Bloods gang in Southeast Raleigh.
Former Black Mob Gangstas member Timothy Collins, who said he had risen to the rank of five-star general within the gang, testified Wednesday that Burrell’s troubles in the Haywood neighborhood stemmed from his refusal to pay dues while selling marijuana for a rival Bloods set. Collins said Burrell’s death in 2009 prompted him to cooperate with investigators.
“I knew him,” said Collins, 35. “I knew his brother. Me and his brother were friends. I don’t feel that his getting killed like that was right. He was only 18 years old.”
‘This is not TV’
As the trial opened Tuesday, Mangum’s lawyer Meredith Hubbard told jurors the trial, predicted to last three weeks, will be long on drama but short on evidence. Prosecutors, she said, will try to “dazzle” them with gang signs and codes without evidence linking her client to murder, which he denies.
“It sounds like a plot on television,” she said. “But this is not TV.”
The defense contends the government’s witnesses are motivated by deals that reduce their sentences or help them avoid prosecution for other crimes, or in some cases out of payback. Mark Edwards, attorney for Devine, said one witness changed her story out of jealousy over an affair with Devine and suspicion that he had talked to police about her.
Jamario Jones, named in the indictment as Fowler’s killer and expected to testify soon, shot at least three people in the years around the crime, Edwards said.
“The only reason the other two survived was he was a bad shot,” Edwards told jurors.
But with testimony from Richards, the FBI agent, the trial had already turned to a lurid portrayal of street life. In his opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Lemmon said BMG leaders referred to marijuana by the code name “loud.”
The BMG was rigidly organized, he said, being a subset of the East Coast-based Gangsta Killer Bloods, had subsets of its own, including Black Mob Cartel. Members followed a hierarchy trickling down from godfather to five-star general to one-star general. They paid dues, which went into a “Community Rent Box.”
Testimony continues Thursday.