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Darrell L. BROOKS





Classification: Mass Murderer
Characteristics: Drug dealer admitted burning the home of a neighbor he believed was "snitching on people"
Number of victims: 7
Date of murder: October 16, 2002
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: 1980
Victims profile: Carnell, 43, and Angela Dawson, 36, and their five children, Keith and Kevin Dawson, both 9; Carnell Dawson Jr., 10; Juan Ortiz, 12; and LaWanda Ortiz, 14
Method of murder: Fire (gasoline)
Location: Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Status: Pleaded guilty. Sentenced to life in prison without parole on August 27, 2003

photo gallery


On October 16, 2002, a fatal fire claimed the lives of a courageous Baltimore woman and her family, after neighbor Darrell Brooks firebombed their home. Angela Dawson, her husband Carnell and their five children all perished in an attack triggered by Angela telling police about criminal activity in her neighborhood.

The murders are considered a fatal consequence of the controversial inner-city Stop Snitchin' ethos which threatens potential police informants with violence. Brooks pleaded guilty to the murders, and the house where the Dawsons once lived is now the Dawson Safe Haven Community Center.


Dawson murder case

The Dawson family, a family of seven (parents Carnell, Angela, and five children), were all murdered in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 16, 2002. After Angela had repeatedly alerted police to drug dealing, assault, and other crime in her East Baltimore neighborhood of Oliver, the entire family died after their home was firebombed. A neighbor, Darrell L. Brooks once a page in the Baltimore City Council chamber pled guilty to the crimes and was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole. At the time of the attack, Brooks was on probation but had been left unsupervised.

After repeated vandalism of their home, the Dawsons survived a first arson attempt on October 3, 2002, only to succumb to the second. The outcry over the magnitude of the crime was only matched by the frustration expressed by many residents who simply could not believe that city officials, who were aware of the escalating violence, had been unable to protect the family. City officials defended their actions, saying an offer to relocate the family was refused.

The tragedy underscored the failure in attempts to encourage residents of Baltimore to stand up to drug dealing and of the city to provide protection to those who did. In 2005, relatives of the Dawson family filed suit against the city, state and various agencies. They alleged that despite the launch of the Believe campaign in 2002 (which encouraged residents to supply information about drug dealers) there were insufficient resources to protect witnesses who did come forward. The lawsuit was later dismissed, a ruling which was later upheld in an appeal to the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Numerous efforts to reclaim and rebuild Oliver in the name of the Dawson family have been undertaken by politicians, activists, and ordinary citizens. Mayor (and later Governor of Maryland) Martin O'Malley, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, State Senator Nathaniel McFadden, and the action group known as Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) have worked in individual and collective ways to ensure the Dawson family a lasting public memory. The house where the Dawsons died reopened in April 2007 as the Dawson Safe Haven Community Center.


10 years after Dawson killings, uneven results in Oliver

Family was killed in fire after complaining about drug dealers

By Ian Duncan - The Baltimore Sun

October 13, 2012

The word of the week, "hope," was written on a whiteboard for East Baltimore students part of an after-school program on the site where an arsonist killed Angela Dawson, her husband and five of their children a decade ago. The children who come to the Dawson Family Safe Haven won't run into trouble like that, organizers say, not if their plan works.

"Standing here now you can hear children laughing and talking," said Pamela V. Carter, a former city councilwoman who runs the programs in the home that was set afire by a drug dealer in retaliation for Dawson's complaints to police. "Out of that tragedy you can hear something positive."

The center is a sign of progress in the Oliver neighborhood, which on Oct. 16, 2002, saw one of the worst acts of witness intimidation in Baltimore history. But echoes of the attack still linger, as Oliver and other sections of the city continue to struggle with the problems of drugs, violence and uneven cooperation with law enforcement.

Memories of the blaze and suspicions of arson also are rekindled when the city confronts a deadly fire. Last week, a woman and four children died in a Northeast Baltimore rowhouse fire, and some neighbors worried about the possibility of arson, even though fire investigators said that was not the likely cause.

After the Dawson fire, the city seized on the idea of raising Oliver, phoenix-like, from the ashes of the family's home. The housing department spent more than $1 million to rebuild the structure, and other city agencies sought to combat underlying problems of poverty and substance abuse. Police and prosecutors, meanwhile, vowed to toughen up on people who intimidate witnesses.

But residents continue to struggle in Oliver, a small neighborhood tucked behind Greenmount Cemetery.

Recent U.S. Census estimates show that more than 48 percent of the neighborhood's residents live below the poverty line, an increase of five percentage points since 1999. Many others left; the area's population fell by a quarter between 2000 and 2010.

There have been eight homicides in Oliver this year, more than in any year since at least 2007. Even as children studied at the Dawson center, a teddy bear strapped to a lamppost marked the nearby spot where Yarndragus Stanton, 26, was gunned down in July. His killing has not been solved.

In such neighborhoods, police and prosecutors often confront a wall of silence when they investigate crimes.

"Sometimes you'll go to a shooting and [people will] know exactly who shot them but they won't tell us," said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

More than anything else, the Dawson killings showed how far Baltimore's drug rings would go to retaliate against someone who interfered with their operations. The Dawsons had called the police or the city 109 times between 2000 and 2002 to report drug activity, according to court filings. Dealers fought back, mounting a campaign of intimidation.

After numerous confrontations, Darrell L. Brooks kicked down the door of the Dawson house, doused the home with gasoline and set it ablaze. Angela Dawson's husband, Carnell Dawson, jumped from the building and died in the hospital a week later. One of Angela Dawson's daughters, Lakeesha Bowell, then 18, was not home the night of the fire and survived, but five other children died in the blaze.

Henry Rogers, who did maintenance work on the house, said the family did not have a chance once Brooks set the home alight. "The fire just caught quick," he said.

Brooks was convicted on federal charges in 2003 and is serving life in prison without possibility of parole.

'Nothing changed'

Wanda Brewer, 52, who operated heavy machinery for Halliburton at Camp Anaconda in Iraq, returned to the neighborhood to look after her ailing grandmother. She looks back bleakly on the last decade.

"Nothing changed," said Brewer, who lives on East Oliver Street. "We just got poorer a lot of us went to jail."

After returning, she found that she was "more at war here than I was in Iraq."

Still, there is evidence of positive change. Crews are at work renovating some of the neighborhood's vacant houses there are nearly 1,000. And as he looks down the hill from where the Dawsons lived, Deputy Housing Commissioner Reginald U. Scriber said the streets were never as clean 10 years ago as they are today.

His department spends $270,000 a year to run the Dawson community center and is proud of the investment. The program is intended to help children with their studies while keeping them away from the temptations of the streets.

"The understanding was it's not so much about the cost, but about the message," Scriber said.

Now there's a waiting list for the after-school program, and Carter said that out of the five members who will graduate from high school next year, two are bound for the Air Force and three for college.

Nina Harper, executive director of the Oliver Community Association, can reel off a long list of programs her group has helped start.

"We knew there were a lot of services that were missing in the community, and so what I did with the board of the community association is sought out various grants," she said.

City officials say the attack provided a compelling story as they sought federal and state funding for programs. Two new substance abuse facilities were opened near Oliver after the fire, and one treats 1,500 people a day, said Greg Warren, chief executive of Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems.

"As we compete against other cities, other states, fortunately and unfortunately the Dawson story continues to be very helpful for us getting the funding and resources that that community needs," Warren said.

Cracking down

But witness intimidation remains a problem in Baltimore. Soon after the Dawson murders, the notorious "Stop Snitching" DVD, an amateur documentary produced by a Baltimore rapper known as "Skinny Suge," openly glorified witness intimidation.

Prosecutors highlighted the "Stop Snitching" video in pressing for a tougher witness intimidation law; it was passed by the General Assembly in 2005. This year, city prosecutors have brought 11 cases against people accused of intimidating or interfering with witnesses.

The police also adapted their tactics in neighborhoods such as Oliver in years after the fire, recognizing a need for a softer approach in some instances. Police have focused in recent years on tracking violent offenders, shifting from a "zero-tolerance" approach to minor crimes that netted many more arrests but soured relationships in some communities.

"What we did in the early part of the decade is we arrested everybody," Guglielmi said. "That didn't help at all, that as a matter of fact set us backward."

Former Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III got officers out of their cars and onto their feet, Guglielmi said. And the department launched social media accounts to explain to communities what police are up to.

The Baltimore state's attorney's office runs a program to relocate and protect witnesses, but Elizabeth Embry, who oversees it, said some people understandably do not want to be torn from their homes to help the government with its cases.

In fact, two weeks before the fatal arson attack on the Dawsons, a Molotov cocktail was thrown through the window of their home. The family escaped, and police said an offer was made to help relocate them, but the Dawsons turned it down.

Alice McNack, Carnell Dawson's sister, said she wanted to take the children into her home, but her brother thought police could protect the family where they were.

"He trusted the system," McNack said.

This year, the state's attorney's office has assisted 182 families in which someone was either the victim of a crime or witness to one. That puts the office on course to offer more assistance than in any of the past seven years, according to spokesman Mark Cheshire.

Embry said the relationship between police officers responsible for witness protection and their counterparts in the prosecutor's office is now much closer. The officers are based at the courthouse, making it much easier to involve them in cases, she said.

While the program's funding is relatively modest, the office has found ways to cut costs, and it can go over budget.

"We don't turn people away," Embry said. "We spend more money if we have to."

Embry said that while no one in the program has been harmed because of a connection to a crime a woman was killed last summer, but prosecutors attributed that to a domestic dispute protection does not ensure that witnesses will overcome their fear of retaliation.

"The fact that they've been relocated is no guarantee of cooperation," Embry said.

Although other cases of intimidation have resulted in federal convictions, witnesses continue to be attacked, including in several high-profile firebombings over the past decade.

The Rev. Marshall Prentice, pastor at Zion Baptist Church in Oliver, said residents have developed ways to report crimes to police without leaving themselves at risk of retaliation making complaints through a church or a community organization, for example.

"They don't want to be visible and they don't want to be identified," Prentice said. "But they want to do the right thing."


Tears and remorse precede life term in Dawson deaths

Arsonist, victims' family tell judge of their pain

By Gail Gibson and Laurie Willis -

August 28, 2003

A small-time East Baltimore drug dealer admitted burning the home of a neighbor he believed was "snitching on people" and just before being sentenced to life in prison yesterday tearfully told relatives of the seven victims that he had wished for his own death as punishment.

Relatives of Carnell and Angela Dawson and their five children, who were killed in the blaze at their East Preston Street rowhouse in October, sobbed as Darrell L. Brooks, 22, faced them in a crowded federal courtroom and shakily apologized for the crime, which outraged the city and drew national attention to Baltimore's struggle against deadly violence.

"I thought the only way I could pay for my actions was with my own life," Brooks said as tears rolled down his cheeks. "I'm sorry. I'm truly sorry. ... I will never, ever, as long as there's breath in my lungs, I will never forgive myself."

The courtroom scene came as Brooks pleaded guilty yesterday to an arson resulting in the deaths of seven people, a charge that could have carried the federal death penalty. Prosecutors said they accepted the plea deal to guarantee a conviction and life sentence without parole for Brooks, who investigators said set the fire in retaliation for Carnell and Angela Dawson's repeated calls to police about neighborhood drug dealing.

Speaking at a news conference, U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio said that Brooks' mental capacity was so diminished that there was a chance that he could have been precluded from facing a death sentence. DiBiagio said his office also wanted to help bring closure to the Dawsons' relatives, who now know that Brooks will die in jail.

"He's got another 50 or 60 years to think about what he did every day while he sits in that cell," said DiBiagio, who called the case a sad waste of human life. "What a colossal waste - seven people are murdered by this drug punk."

DiBiagio said no one else would be charged, and the case is closed.

Court records describe Brooks as a "sometime drug trafficker" with a string of arrests, mostly involving relatively small amounts of narcotics: six baggies of heroin in one stop, three vials of crack cocaine in another. The Dawsons, meanwhile, were known in their Oliver Street neighborhood for making frequent complaints to police about drug activity. Records showed the couple made at least 34 calls to police between June 26 and Oct. 9.

Describing in court yesterday the case built by city police and fire investigators and agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason M. Weinstein said Brooks had showed increasing antagonism toward the Dawsons in the days and weeks before the fatal fire.

As part of the plea deal, Brooks admitted an earlier attempt to set fire to the family's home, on Oct. 3. Weinstein said Brooks told some of his drug associates that he had thrown two "cocktail bombs" into the house because "Mrs. Dawson was snitching on people."

One witness told authorities that on Oct. 15, shortly before setting the fire that killed the Dawsons, Brooks told a friend that although the "first time" had not worked, "he was going to make sure he `gets' Mrs. Dawson this time," Weinstein said.

A few hours later, about 2:20 a.m. Oct. 16, Brooks kicked open the door to the Dawson home at 1401 E. Preston St., doused the front hall with gasoline and then set it on fire, authorities said. In court, Weinstein described how the fire spread across the first floor, then climbed to the second and third floors where the Dawsons slept.

Angela Dawson, 36, was killed in the fire along with the five children: Lawanda Ortiz, 14; Juan Ortiz, 12; Carnell Dawson, Jr., 10; and Kevin and Keith Dawson, both 9. Carnell Dawson Sr., 43, escaped the fire by leaping from a window. He was found unconscious on the sidewalk outside and died from his injuries a week later.

Carnell Dawson's sister Alice McNack described in court yesterday hearing the news about the fire as she drove to work that morning and filling with dread as she realized it could be her brother's family, a fear confirmed in a call to her cell phone a few minutes later.

McNack, one of six relatives to speak in court yesterday, told U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis how Carnell and Angela Dawson had created a loving, welcoming home. Often Carnell Dawson would hold cookouts for neighborhood children, even when the food bill pinched a tight budget.

"My brother taught his children what maybe Darrell Brooks didn't get at home - love of family," McNack said.

In one tearful address after another, relatives recounted the horror of the crime and the profound loss felt during the past year. Novella Solomon, another sister of Carnell Dawson's, said that because she could not afford to travel from her home in Oklahoma to Maryland, she hadn't met Angela and the children until she came to Baltimore for their funeral.

"We went to the cemetery yesterday, and it was again just like saying hello and goodbye to them at once," Solomon said.

Tameka Evans, Carnell Dawson's daughter from a previous relationship, said she has three sisters on her mother's side of the family who live in Kansas and whose ages are similar to those of the half-brothers she lost in the fire, Kevin, Keith and Carnell Jr.

"I have to live watching my sisters grow up and thinking what my brothers would be doing at that stage in their lives," Evans said. "I'm really trying hard to forgive, but it's going to be a long journey."

Near the end of the 90-minute hearing, at the point where attorneys typically argue for long sentences or for leniency, there was little left for Assistant U.S. Attorney John B. Purcell or Maryland Federal Public Defender James Wyda to say.

Purcell called a sentence of life without parole the "fair, just and only possible sentence resulting from this case" and said the Dawsons' relatives should serve as a reminder "for the need for good people to not have to stand alone."

Wyda explained how his client offered to plead guilty and volunteered to face the death penalty as he struggled to absorb the "shock and horror of the consequences of his actions." But Wyda said Brooks' life was properly spared: "He, too, remains one of God's children, one who has touched those who have defended him, and we care for him deeply."

Without elaborating, Wyda described Brooks as "ineligible" for the death penalty. He declined to comment later about DiBiagio's assertion that Brooks was "brain damaged."

As is customary in federal sentencing hearings, Garbis then offered Brooks a chance to speak. The lanky young man rose from his chair and apologized to Garbis for turning his back on the judge but said his comments were intended for the Dawsons' relatives. Facing a packed courtroom, Brooks' voice broke, but he went on to speak for several minutes about his remorse.

Brooks said he had wished for a death sentence but ultimately chose to spare the Dawson relatives and his family the pain of a protracted trial and appeals process. Brooks' mother and several other relatives were in court but declined to comment.

"I didn't think I deserved life in prison. I thought I deserved nothing but death," Brooks said. "Then I thought, `No. The pain's got to stop somewhere.' "

Crying harder, Brooks said he had known and loved the Dawson children: "I didn't mean it. I swear I didn't mean it. I swear."

When Brooks turned back to face the bench, Garbis accepted his guilty plea and handed down the life sentence. The judge called the outcome of the case just and said the sad case made clear that what is needed "is to find a way to solve the problems so another generation of kids - which includes people like Mr. Brooks - is not led down the same path."

In statements after the court hearing, Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy and Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark said the case should serve as a rallying call to the city and a warning shot to other young criminals - what Clark called young men "in the drug game."

"Within yourselves, you have the ability to listen, the ability to show respect and the ability to know right from wrong," Clark said. "But don't wait to show those abilities until you are a defendant, standing before a judge who is sending you to jail for the rest of your life. Get out of the game now."

Baltimore Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. quietly recalled standing in the Dawsons' burned-out rowhouse, in what had been the children's bedrooms, on the morning of the fire last year. He called the outcome in Brooks' criminal case a welcome end to the story.

Angela Dawson's mother, Donnell Golden, left U.S. District Court yesterday clutching a small white teddy bear decorated with a butterfly lapel pin - both given to her by Angela on Mother's Day last year. Golden said she wants to forgive Brooks but can't just yet.

"It's all so unbelievable," Golden said, fingering the bear, which she said she carries with her at all times. "You know, it's like a dream. And maybe someday you'll wake up and find out it's not true. But we know it is."


Plea deal likely for Dawson suspect

Court records indicate man charged in killings to admit guilt at hearing

By Gail Gibson and Allison Klein -

August 23, 2003

An East Baltimore man accused of setting fire to a neighbor's home in one of the city's deadliest arsons is expected to plead guilty next week to federal charges that likely would mean life in prison, sparing him a possible death sentence.

Darrell L. Brooks, 22, charged in the deaths of Carnell and Angela Dawson and their five children, was scheduled to stand trial next month. But court records indicate that Brooks will instead plead guilty at a re-arraignment and sentencing hearing scheduled Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis.

It was unclear yesterday what specific charge was part of the pending plea deal with federal prosecutors. Brooks was charged in December in a 10-count indictment that included seven counts of arson resulting in death, a crime that can bring the federal death penalty.

He was also charged with destruction of property, possessing unregistered firearms - for the two Molotov cocktails that authorities alleged were thrown into the Dawsons' rented rowhouse on East Preston Street - and using the crude firebombs in a violent crime, a charge that can carry a life sentence.

Maryland federal public defender James Wyda, who represents Brooks, declined to comment on the case last night.

Vickie E. LeDuc, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio, also declined to comment. LeDuc would say only that an announcement was expected at a news conference after Wednesday's hearing in Brooks' case.

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, through her spokeswoman, confirmed that she was asked by DiBiagio's office to attend a news conference Wednesday morning but declined to comment further. Officials with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the lead investigative agency in the case, also were expected to attend the media event.

A plea deal would bring to a quiet close a case that touched off fresh outrage about Baltimore's struggle against crime and violence. Investigators have said that the early-morning fire on Oct. 16 last year was set in retaliation for the Dawsons' efforts to fight drug dealing in their neighborhood.

The deadly fire also brought new scrutiny of the state court and probation systems, where Brooks had faced a string of armed robbery, assault and other charges, dating to at least 1998. State officials have acknowledged that at the time of the fire, Brooks could have been jailed for failing to report to his state probation officer as required under an April conviction for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.

A spokesman for Mayor Martin O'Malley, who has made the Dawsons' deaths a touchstone in his continuing campaign to fight crime in the city, said last night that they had no information about the possible plea deal.

"Obviously, the mayor is very interested in seeing justice done, particularly in the Dawson case," spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said.

Brooks was arrested within hours of the fire and initially charged in state court with multiple counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Angela Dawson, 36, and the children, ages 9 to 14. Carnell Dawson Sr., 43, escaped the fire by jumping out a second-story window but died a week later.

Federal authorities, involved in the case from the first hours of the investigation, eventually brought charges against Brooks in U.S. District Court, which typically has less lenient juries and where defendants typically face harsher penalties.

Although the federal charges against Brooks could carry a death sentence, it is not automatic. The decision about whether to seek a death sentence in federal court is made by the local U.S. attorney's office in concert with officials at the Department of Justice in Washington.

Those deliberations are not part of the public proceedings in federal criminal cases. In the case against Brooks, federal prosecutors had not filed a notice of their intent to seek the death penalty - the first public indication that the government will ask for a death sentence.

The possibility of a high-profile federal death penalty trial had prompted Wyda to ask a federal judge to move the case outside Baltimore, arguing that the region's residents were so outraged by the case that they could not serve as impartial jurors. Federal prosecutors had opposed that request.


Recordings, court documents show Dawson family's battles

911, 311 requests for help made one month before fire show fear, frustration

By Del Quentin Wilber -

February 17, 2003

At least 18 months before an arson fire that killed seven members of the Dawson family in East Baltimore, the father was chasing drug dealers off his front stoop to protect his children, court records show.

And in the month before the family's house was set ablaze Oct. 16, Carnell Dawson and his wife, Angela, made repeated calls to police for help. Their voices - often frustrated or desperate - can be heard on tape recordings provided by police to The Sun.

In one call, made by Carnell Dawson on Oct. 1, he complains that several dealers had surrounded his house and were menacing his family, apparently in retaliation.

"I'm going to court tomorrow for a guy that busted out my windows and all, and they let him out of jail," Dawson said. "He's got reinforcements. The drug dealers are all around my house. ... My wife is terrified, and she's crying. ... They are all around my house, trying to do something to my kids and my wife. ... They said they were going to bust up the windows and shoot up my house."

Police sent officers to the house to chase them away.

As preparations proceed for the September trial of Darrell L. Brooks, the 21-year-old charged in federal court with setting the fire, attorneys will likely delve into their neighborhood struggles. After the fire, police and neighbors said the family was targeted because they had persistently fought drug dealing.

The tapes and court records reveal a compelling - albeit fragmentary - record of the family's back-and-forth battles with neighborhood thugs and dealers who set up shop on the family's corner at Eden and Preston streets in the heart of East Baltimore.

35 calls

Police officials say 35 calls were made from the Dawsons' address at 1401 E. Preston St. to dispatchers at the city's 911 and 311 center between June 26 and Oct. 16. Because the agency routinely erases older dispatch recordings, The Sun obtained only recordings of calls made in the month before the fire.

Court records also provide a vivid description of the family's efforts, dating back more than a year before the fire.

The first documented effort by a Dawson family member to rid their corner of drugs was just after noon March 21, 2001, when Carnell Dawson tried to chase away a dealer.

Dawson told police he spotted Joseph Bullock, 40, standing in front of his house hawking $10 packages of drugs. Dawson said that he asked Bullock to leave because he feared for his children, according to court records.

"You can't tell me to leave the corner," the man yelled, before reaching into his waistband as if to pull out a gun, Dawson said.

Dawson called police, who later arrested Bullock and charged him with second-degree assault. Bullock pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years' probation.

Trouble of their own

But as Dawson and his wife were trying to protect their children, they were running into trouble themselves. In May 2001, Angela Dawson was arrested and charged with assault after punching and kicking her husband in front of police officers.

It was not the first time she was in trouble with police, having been arrested several times on minor charges. In 1994, she was stabbed twice in the chest and back in a fight with a neighborhood woman, court records show.

In December 2001, Carnell Dawson was arrested by police who spotted him buying drugs a few blocks from his house. Police seized four vials of crack cocaine from his pocket. Dawson was given probation before judgment by a District Court judge.

The Dawsons do not appear in public records for the next nine months, when they accused a neighbor in what appears to be a series of increasingly violent face-offs.

In the first case, filed Aug. 23, last year, Angela Dawson wrote that Johnathan L. Colbert, 18, whom she refers to by the name John L. Henry, slapped her.

Nearly three weeks later, Carnell Dawson alleged that the same man, who lived around the corner in the 1200 block of N. Eden St., broke one of his windows and threatened his wife.

As the Dawsons prepared for court in those cases, they were calling 911 and 311 to complain about Colbert and others. The first still-existing recording of a call was placed Sept. 25 last year.

"A guy walked around the corner and hit me in my chest with a bottle," Angela Dawson said. "It's right on my steps."

That night, Carnell Dawson called 311, the police nonemergency number. He said he was "having problems with these people" at Preston and Eden streets.

"The same thing, with the drug dealers, smoking blunts on the corner," Dawson said, using the street term for a cigar filled with marijuana. "Tell them to move along. They have busted out my windows twice."

About 10 minutes later, Dawson called 311 again. He said an officer chased the people away. "Now, they're back out front, hollering the same thing, `Red tops, black tops,'" Dawson said, using slang terms employed by dealers to promote their product.

"A couple of them ran, ... but now they are back again," Dawson said.

The next day, Dawson complained about someone throwing bottles, trying to break his windows. He identified a potential suspect - "His name is Durrell," Dawson said.

It is not clear whether Dawson was referring to Darrell Brooks, who would later be charged in the fatal fire.

A Sept. 29 call shows Dawson's frustration when dealers set up shop outside his home.

"Police came through earlier and they ran them off Caroline and Preston," Dawson said. "Now the drug dealers are on my corner, making noise and ... smoking reefer."

He also called 911 when his house was attacked by an arsonist Oct. 3. No one was injured.

"Somebody just gas-bombed my house," Dawson said. "Could I have some police over here now?"

The next day, he called 911.

"I'm at 1401 East Preston," Dawson said. "You know my house got firebombed last night, cocktailed? These guys are back around the corner in front of my house ... smoking reefer. ... The same ones I've been having problems with."

Police also provided recordings of emergency calls from horrified neighbors reporting the fire that consumed the corner rowhouse about 2:20 a.m. Oct. 16.

"Oh my God, get a fire company out here quick," one woman told a dispatcher. "There are five little children in this house. Eden and Preston street is a murder scene. There are five little babies in that house."


Suspect in Dawson arson deaths pleads innocent in U.S. court

By Del Quentin Wilber -

January 17, 2003

A 21-year-old man pleaded not guilty yesterday to federal charges of setting a fatal fire last year that killed seven members of an East Baltimore family and touched off widespread outrage against the city's culture of drugs and violence.

Darrell L. Brooks, wearing a long-sleeved black T-shirt and blue jeans, quietly entered his plea in federal court before U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis.

Brooks is charged in a 10-count indictment with setting a fire Oct. 16 at the rented rowhouse in the 1400 block of E. Preston St. where Carnell and Angela Dawson lived with their five children. Brooks, a neighbor of the Dawsons, is also charged with throwing a Molotov cocktail into the house Oct. 3. That fire caused no injuries.

Garbis set a Sept. 22 trial date yesterday, and much of the hearing centered on whether defense lawyers will have enough time to prepare their case.

James Wyda, Brooks' lawyer and the federal public defender in Baltimore, said he would need more than nine months to delve through records and witness statements generated by dozens of city and federal investigators.

"The investigation is of some complexity," Wyda said.

Wyda said that he would also need more time to research and analyze Brooks' lengthy history of learning disabilities and hospitalizations for mental illness.

Before trial, Wyda will get a chance to present Brooks' troubled past and other mitigating factors to officials with the U.S. Justice Department, who will decide whether to seek capital punishment.

Wyda suggested that he would seek to move the case out of Baltimore because he was "certainly concerned about the effect of publicity" on potential jurors.

Angela Dawson and the five children, ages 9 to 14, were found dead in the house; Carnell Dawson leapt from a second-story window and died a week later.


U.S. court will try arson suspect

City man could face death penalty in fire that killed 7 family members

By Gail Gibson -

December 12, 2002

An East Baltimore man accused of torching a neighbor's home in one of the city's deadliest arsons was indicted yesterday on federal charges that could bring the death penalty, the latest instance where local prosecutors have stepped aside to let federal authorities handle the city's worst crimes.

Darrell L. Brooks, 21, was charged in a 10-count indictment with throwing two Molotov cocktails into the rented rowhouse on East Preston Street where Carnell and Angela Dawson lived with their five children. Investigators said the fire was set in retaliation for the Dawsons' efforts to fight drug dealing in their neighborhood.

Brooks was arrested within hours of the early-morning fire Oct. 16 and charged in state court with multiple counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Angela Dawson and the children, ages 9 to 14. Carnell Dawson Sr. escaped the fire by jumping out a second-story window, but died a week later.

The deaths touched off fresh outrage about Baltimore's struggle against crime and violence and appeared likely to produce a rare death penalty trial in the city courts. But Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said yesterday that it made sense for the case to be moved to U.S. District Court in Baltimore, because of her office's limited resources.

"All of the citizens of Baltimore were outraged by this case," she said. "All of us want the best possible outcome."

Brooks could face the federal death penalty on each of seven counts of arson resulting in death. He also is charged with destruction of property, possessing unregistered firearms - the Molotov cocktails, which are considered firearms under federal law - and using the crude firebombs in a violent crime, a charge that can bring a life sentence.

Brooks has faced a string of armed robbery, assault and other charges in state court, dating to at least 1998. State officials have acknowledged that at the time of the fire, Brooks could have been jailed for failing to report to his state probation officer as required under an April conviction for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.

Racine Winborne, a spokeswoman for the Division of Parole and Probation, said a review of the case had resulted in three employees being disciplined.

Winborne said the review showed that employees had failed to take action against Brooks when he didn't report to his probation agent, and that they failed to perform record checks that would have determined his whereabouts.

Brooks' long history with the criminal justice system fanned concerns that local authorities have not done enough to keep criminals in prison. Jessamy said that was not a factor in the decision to try the arson case in federal court.

She said her office handles hundreds of homicide cases and thousands of nonfatal shootings each year. The result, Jessamy said, is an overburdened system where homicide prosecutors routinely are juggling as many as 15 murder cases at a time.

If her office had sought the death penalty against Brooks, Jessamy said she would have had to assign one assistant to handle virtually no other cases until it was completed.

Jessamy had not determined whether to seek the death penalty in Brooks' case. But she said: "The death penalty should be reserved for the most heinous crimes; you can't get more heinous than this."

At a news conference, U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio chided reporters for asking why the case was transferred to federal court, calling the questions "ridiculous."

"If you firebomb a house and kill seven people, if that's not a federal case, then I don't know what is," DiBiagio said. "Seven people were burned alive."

The case joins a growing list of city crimes transferred to federal court - which typically has less lenient juries and harsher punishment - since DiBiagio took office about a year ago. Each decision was made in concert with Jessamy.

Under DiBiagio, the office also has brought charges that could carry the death penalty in two fatal carjacking cases and against leaders of a drug gang in a deadly shooting at a Memorial Day block party last year.

In some cases, federal authorities have offered greater protection for witnesses who otherwise might be reluctant to testify in state court. Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris praised the close working relationship at the news conference, while noting that in the case of the Dawson family witnesses were willing to come forward.

"There was so much community outrage and anger that people stepped up and helped us out," Norris said, adding that he hoped that trend would continue. "Out of something this terrible, maybe something good can be discovered."


Brooks faces new charges

Arson suspect is accused in robbery a month earlier

By Allison Klein -

October 29, 2002

Weeks before Darrell Brooks was accused of setting a deadly blaze that killed a family of seven in East Baltimore, he robbed a pizza deliveryman at gunpoint, court documents allege.

The deliveryman told detectives he saw Brooks' face in the news last week and realized that was the person who had robbed him last month.

Brooks, who is charged with murder and arson in the deaths of seven members of the Dawson family, was also charged with robbery with a deadly weapon and assault last week, and bail was set at $1 million.

The 21-year-old city man, who has a long record of arrests involving robbery, assault and drugs, was being held without bail in the Oct. 16 fire.

Authorities have said the blaze was set in retaliation for Angela Dawson's refusing to ignore drug dealing in her neighborhood and routinely calling police. She, her husband and their five children were killed in the arson at Preston and Eden streets.

The pizza deliveryman was robbed at 9:20 a.m. Sept. 12, when two men approached him, put a gun to his head and demanded his money, documents show. The victim handed over his wallet, which contained $60. The gunmen then ran away.

Thursday, the victim told detectives the gunman who robbed him "looks like the guy in the Eden Street murders," according to prosecutors.

Detectives showed the victim a photo array and he identified Brooks as one of the men who robbed him.

In connection with the fire, Brooks is accused of kicking in the Dawson family's door, pouring gasoline throughout the first floor, then setting the house ablaze.

Keith and Kevin Dawson, both 9; Carnell Dawson Jr., 10; Juan Ortiz, 12; and LaWanda Ortiz, 14, perished on the upper floors of their three-story rowhouse. Dawson's husband, Carnell Dawson Sr., 43, escaped by jumping out of a second-story window, but was gravely injured. He died last week.

Authorities said they are considering bringing federal charges in the arson, which would mean Brooks could face a less-forgiving jury pool and possibly harsher penalties than in the city courts.

Brooks was once a fixture in City Hall, a young man in a tie and jacket who worked for City Council members passing out agendas and fixing microphones before meetings.


Suspect in fire skirted probation

State officials admit to lax oversight, say he could've been jailed

Man, 21, is denied bail

By Laurie Willis and Laura Vozzella -

October 19, 2002

A city man accused of torching a neighbor's home and killing six family members could have been jailed months ago because he never reported to his probation agent, state officials said.

They acknowledged yesterday that they failed to properly supervise Darrell L. Brooks, who was on probation at the time he is accused of setting a fire that killed Angela Dawson and her five children in their East Baltimore home early Wednesday morning.

"To date we have not found any documented contact [with a probation agent] and that is reprehensible," said Stuart O. Simms, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

In District Court yesterday, Brooks was denied bail, and a preliminary hearing was set for Nov 21. Meanwhile, authorities said they are considering bringing federal charges in the arson - a move that could mean defendants would face a less forgiving jury pool and possibly harsher penalties than in the city courts.

Brooks had been on two years' probation after he was sentenced in April to a three-year suspended sentence for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. Six other charges, including theft and drug possession, were dropped at that time. But Brooks never had any contact with his probation agent, whom he should have seen about twice a month, officials said. And Brooks' probation agent never reported his failure to appear, Simms said.

He said the agency was still reviewing the case.

"Staff could be held accountable if it is found, as it appears, that the management of the case was not consistent with agency standards," Simms said.

Bail hearing

During a bail hearing before District Court Judge John R. Hargrove Jr., Brooks, of the 1200 block of N. Eden St., stood shaking his head as Assistant State's Attorney David Chiu read a statement of facts detailing the blaze, which killed Angela Maria Dawson, 36, and her children: Keith and Kevin Dawson, 9; Carnell Dawson Jr., 10; Juan Ortiz, 12; and LaWanda Ortiz, 14. Carnell Dawson Sr., 43, who jumped from a second-floor window, was critically injured in the fire and remains in critical condition in an area hospital.

The fire - one of the worst arsons in the city's history - appeared to be in retaliation for Angela Dawson's repeated complaints against neighborhood drug dealers, police have said.

Chiu said witnesses reported seeing Brooks kick in the front door of the Dawsons' three-story rowhouse in the 1400 block of E. Preston St. and pour gasoline inside the home.

"Witnesses indicated [Brooks] told someone he killed the lady and her children," Chiu said.

The prosecutor went on to say that a bag containing a glass jar and a measuring pump that contained liquid that smelled like gasoline were found in Brooks' bedroom and are being tested. Brooks lives with his sister in the Oliver Street community, not far from the Dawson home, Chiu said.

U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio said yesterday that prosecutors from his office are consulting with Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy to determine whether the case should be tried in federal court. No decision had been made.

"We are looking at the case," DiBiagio said.

Jessamy declined to talk about the case. Through spokeswoman Margaret T. Burns, she declined to say whether she would seek the death penalty against Brooks.

Brooks has a long history of run-ins with city police, with a string of armed robbery, assault and other charges dating at least to 1998 - a fact that has fanned community anger over a criminal justice system perceived as not having done enough to keep criminals jailed.

In addition, some family members and friends feel that police and city officials did not do enough to protect the Dawson family. Angela Dawson frequently called police to complain about drug dealing in her neighborhood, and her home had been firebombed Oct 3. No one had been hurt in that incident.

City officials said they offered to relocate the Dawsons after that earlier fire, an assertion that John Robert Harrington Jr., Angela Dawson's brother, said he does not believe.

However, several police, city and community leaders insist the family was offered a chance at a better life somewhere else but declined.

Detective T. Holt, who works for the Baltimore Police Department's arson unit, spent 10 years as a patrol officer in the Eastern District until his promotion Aug. 15. He knows the Dawsons well and visited their home after the fire earlier this month, which was ignited by two Molotov cocktails thrown through first-floor windows.

"I had stayed in touch with the family," Holt said yesterday. "I did what I could. We tried to relocate them, but they were insistent on staying put. They said they did not want the drug dealers to run them out of the neighborhood."

Lt. Rick Hite, commander of the police's community outreach program, said three of his officers visited the Dawson home after the firebombing.

"They were in the process of considering a move to the West Side, but Mr. Dawson was adamant about the fact that they were not going to let the drug dealers remove them," Hite said.

"We also offered to transport Mr. Dawson to and from work. Safety is a relevant term. At that point, he felt a need to safeguard his family in a manner in which he felt comfortable."

Safety questions

The Rev. Willie Armstrong, director of the Baltimore Child Development Community Policing Program, which intervenes when children are the victims of violence, said he knows police tried to relocate the family.

"My conversation with the Dawsons about moving ... they had said the landlord was helping them," Armstrong said. "They were trying to find someplace else to go, and they were even considering moving back to Oklahoma."

Harrington said his sister and her husband were so afraid in the two weeks leading up to the deadly fire that they stopped taking their boys to Dr. Bernard Harris Sr. Elementary School, just a block away from their home, and Angela Dawson missed a few appointments at the city's Department of Social Services.

Holt's voice cracked as he talked yesterday about the Dawson children, whom he described as very polite, and defended the police's attempts to ensure the Dawsons' safety.

"We tried. ... If we're not doing it right, I'll be the first to say it," Hite said.

Criticism about what was done to ensure the Dawsons' safety is exacerbated by state officials' admission about the poor supervision of Brooks while he was on probation.

Yesterday, the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services asked that a state hiring freeze be lifted so that 140 to 150 probation agents can be hired to supervise offenders to help about 200 already working in the city. The move would cut the caseload of most agents in half, from about 100 offenders per agent to 50, department head Simms said. Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend agreed to ask Gov. Parris N. Glendening to lift the freeze, Simms said.

Meeting for the second day in a row at police headquarters, members of the City Council, state House and Senate demanded that changes be made, according to participants at the closed-door meeting.

"We're still feeling the anger and the hurt that something like this could happen to a mother, five children and a father who might not make it," said City Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

Sun staff writer Gail Gibson contributed to this report.


Man, 21, charged in fatal city fire

Police say he was angry with neighboring family for reporting drug activity; 'This is terror, too,' official says; Outraged lawmakers seek to call in state police, Guard to help fight crime

By Laura Vozzella and Laurie Willis -

October 18, 2002

A 21-year-old East Baltimore man who was angry with a neighbor for reporting drug activity to police was charged with arson and six counts of murder yesterday in the fire that killed a woman and her five children Wednesday, police said.

The swift arrest of Darrell L. Brooks will send a message to criminals that they cannot get away with such "barbaric" acts of retaliation, Mayor Martin O'Malley said.

"These children will not have died in vain," he said. "This is not the future of our city. This has to become part of our past."

Police said Brooks, of the 1200 block of N. Eden St., was linked to the fire by forensic evidence, which they declined to discuss. They were questioning other people in the case and said Brooks also is a suspect in the Oct. 3 firebombing of the Dawsons' house, which the family escaped.

Wednesday's blaze killed Angela Maria Dawson, 36, and her children: Keith and Kevin Dawson, 8; Carnell Dawson Jr., 10; Juan Ortiz, 10; and LaWanda Ortiz, 14. Dawson's husband, Carnell Dawson Sr., 43, was badly burned and remained in critical condition last night at an area hospital.

Angela and Carnell Dawson had angered Brooks and some others in the neighborhood for alerting police to drug activity and other crime around their rowhouse at 1401 E. Preston St., police said.

"They acted heroically," Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris said. "They did the things good citizens should do."

Earlier this month, the Dawsons had taken an 18-year-old neighbor, John L. Henry, to court on assault and property-destruction charges. Brooks lives next door to Henry, and police said the two know each other. Officials declined to say whether there is any connection between the court case and the arsons.

Brooks has a long history of run-ins with city police with a string of armed robbery, assault, drug and other charges dating at least to 1998. That fact fanned community anger over a criminal justice system perceived as not having done enough to keep criminals behind bars.

Lawmakers angry

Members of the City Council and state House and Senate delegations criticized the system in a closed-door meeting with Norris yesterday morning at police headquarters, participants said. Yelling and cursing at times, they called for drastic action, including calling in state police and even the National Guard to patrol Baltimore's streets.

They compared the fight to reclaim the city from drug dealers to the battle against international terrorism and the hunt for the Washington-area sniper.

"I know that we do not have the manpower on the Police Department to man every corner. That's what we've got the military for," said City Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, who called the governor's office with a request to send in the Guard. "The military is being used on the sniper, with the spy plane. Well, this is terror, too."

State Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden said the idea of calling in the Guard was "not over the top for me."

"We have terrorist cells of juvenile drug dealers," McFadden said. "We liken it to al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden. Same kind of thing. And it's all over the city. And they have no fear of retribution. It's just a brazen attack when you firebomb a person's house two times within a month. ... We want to respond just like the Israelis would respond when they're bombed. You bomb them one day, they take action the next day."

Norris said he would consider using state police to assist with drug enforcement but dismissed the possibility of using the Guard.

The politicians called for a meeting today with state probation officials to urge them to crack down on probation violators.

"All they get is a slap on the wrist and come out the revolving door," said Councilwoman Pamela V. Carter, who was the Dawsons' backdoor neighbor.

Brooks was in Police Department custody late yesterday. No bail had been set.

Several city leaders expressed concern that the killings would make it even harder to get residents to report crimes to police - something the city has been encouraging as part of the anti-drug Baltimore Believe campaign.

"It rocks the confidence of those good citizens," said Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector.

Added Council President Sheila Dixon, "I do not want to see Baltimore under siege by some petty drug dealers."

Galvanizing the city

Norris expressed hope that the tragedy would galvanize the city in its fight against crime, convincing residents more than ever that they have to take back their city. He did warn people against confronting criminals directly, as neighbors said the Dawsons had done. He suggested they call police or pass along tips through intermediaries such as elected officials.

"This is going to be, I hope, a tipping point in this city," Norris said.

Relatives of the Dawsons complained yesterday that police did not do enough to protect the family. John Robert Harrington Jr., Angela Dawson's brother, disputed reports that officials offered to relocate the family through a witness protection program.

"The police weren't trying to help the way they're claiming," Harrington said.

Prosecutors and Norris said the relocation offer was made, but the Dawsons declined, saying they did not want to be run out of their home by drug dealers. Norris also said police made several visits to the family's home after the Oct. 3 fire, ignited by two Molotov cocktails thrown through first-floor windows. While the community's anger is understandable, Norris said, that anger should be directed at those responsible for the crime, not at the government.

"It's about time we got the outrage focused in the right direction," he said.

All morning long and into the afternoon in the East Baltimore neighborhood of Oliver, people walked up to the charred house to see where the family had died. Many brought teddy bears as mementos. The Eden Street entrance to the house had become a shrine to the Dawson family. More than 50 teddy bears of all sizes covered the steps, along with balloons and a poster that read: "Think Of The Children And Please!!! Stop The Madness."

Jeffrey Easton brought an empty water jug, dropped in $5 and some change, then left the jug near the shrine for donations. Plans were to collect donations throughout the weekend.

"I'm glad I was able to give something," said Easton, who lives nearby on Central Avenue.

Relatives of the Dawsons were working yesterday to establish a fund named in memory of Angela Dawson - The Angel Family Fund - at Bank of America. They were also making funeral arrangements at March Funeral Home.

School grieves

At Dr. Bernard Harris Sr. Elementary School, pupils continued coping with the loss of third-graders Kevin and Keith Dawson and fifth-graders Juan Ortiz and Carnell Dawson Jr. Counselors talked to about a dozen pupils individually yesterday. Several parents requested counseling for their children.

"Everybody is feeling this," Principal Lucretia Coates said, describing emotions that went beyond the pain and sadness of losing four pupils.

"I'm outraged," she said. "To think that these children lost their lives because of retaliation from drug dealers. I think this community should be outraged and should not suffer in silence or in fear."

Sun staff writers Dick Irwin, M. Dion Thompson and Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.


Account of one fire omen of another

Woman killed in fire had given police report of earlier arson attack

By Laura Vozzella -

October 17, 2002

Two Molotov cocktails crashed through the windows of Angela and Carnell Dawson's East Baltimore house two weeks ago, and as the place filled with suffocating smoke, the couple grabbed their five children and frantically groped their way out.

"My husband and I gathered our babies and led them to safety," Angela Dawson said in a handwritten account for authorities.

"Before getting out of the [house], we experienced choking from the smoke and could hardly see how to get to the door. The heat was very intense coming from the kitchen. ... Every time I threw water on the fire, it flared up even more. I finally got the fire under control and went outside with my family."

The Dawsons' chilling account of what happened two weeks ago foreshadowed yesterday's tragedy, when fire again swept through the rowhouse, killing Angela Dawson and the children, and leaving Carnell Dawson critically burned.

In a written statement to police, the Dawsons blamed the Oct. 3 arson on a neighbor, John L. Henry, whom Angela Dawson had taken to court the day before on assault and property-destruction charges.

As a result of the first fire, prosecutors reopened that criminal case Tuesday and reported the blaze as a possible probation violation to Henry's probation agent that same day, court records show.

Henry could not be reached for comment yesterday. He lives across the street from the Dawsons with his grandmother, Carole Colbert, who said he was not involved in either blaze.

"He did have a dispute with them, with the lady who lived there," said Colbert, 60, a retired nursing assistant. "She called the police on him so many times it was getting to be a nuisance. Last time she called the police he'd be sitting on the steps. I sent him to the store and he'd have to cross the street to get away from her house."

Colbert said two plainclothes police came to her door yesterday but soon "went on about their business" without asking for her grandson, who was not home.

Anti-dealing campaign

At a time when a city campaign is urging residents to come forward with information to convict drug dealers, neighbors, relatives and some politicians called both blazes retaliation against a family who had spoken out against dealing.

But top city leaders offered muted - if any - responses to the tragedy, apparently leery of pointing fingers in the case of a fire that they were not calling suspicious, much less arson. Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris declined to comment, as did Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy. Mayor Martin O'Malley released a brief written statement.

"This is a horribly tragic loss of life," O'Malley's statement said. "The circumstances that caused the fire are under very active investigation. The entire city mourns the deeply tragic loss of this young family."

Long-running dispute

Fire officials and police declined to speculate on a possible connection between the fires and the long-running dispute the Dawsons had with Henry, an 18-year-old high school dropout with a record of drug and firearms arrests.

Colbert said Angela Dawson unfairly accused many neighborhood teens of dealing drugs - making her so unpopular that Colbert's grandson considered circulating a petition calling for the family to move out. Henry, who sometimes uses his grandmother's last name, never followed through with the plan, she said.

A criminal record

"A lot of young people in our neighborhood was messing with drugs. But she said he was messing with drugs, but he doesn't," Colbert said. "She would say things about him, [such as] he needs to go get a job."

Henry was charged with possession of marijuana, a handgun and a firearm in April last year, court records show. He pleaded guilty in Baltimore court to the weapons charges and received a five-year suspended sentence and three years of probation, which began in July last year. The drug charge was dropped as part of a plea bargain.

In a report to police, the Dawsons accused Henry of spray-painting a curse word on the wall outside their house Aug. 22 and slapping Angela Dawson in the face the next day. The couple accused him of throwing bricks through their windows Aug. 25 and Sept. 4.

'Stet' status

As a result, Henry appeared in court Oct. 2 on charges of assault and malicious destruction of property. He was ordered to pay $275 in restitution and stay away from the family, and the case was put on inactive or "stet" status for a year.

About 4 a.m. the next morning, two glass bottles filled with flammable liquid and topped with wicks were tossed through the Dawsons' first floor window, according to a police report.

After the first fire, the Dawsons met with prosecutors, who said they offered to place the family in a witness protection program Oct. 7. The family declined, saying they did not want to move.

Sun writers M. Dion Thompson, Laurie Willis and Walter F. Roche contributed to this article.



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