This week, Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright tried to draw a bright line connecting those two events as accused triggerman Trevor “Little T” Mattis, 23, (Rankin’s half-brother) and alleged Bloods gang leader Gary “G-Money” Griffin, 30, went on trial for first-degree murder, conspiracy and six lesser felony counts.
During the first three days of testimony in Ulster County Court, Carnright presented witnesses, videotape from a deli near the murder scene, a confession by Mattis and a series of phone calls made by Rankin to alleged gang associates in an effort to make the case that King’s murder was a “clean and precise execution” carried out to prevent the 21-year-old from testifying against Rankin about the November shooting.
Carnright also sought to tie King’s murder in with the activities of “Sex Money Murder,” a Bloods gang “set” with roots in the Soundview section of the Bronx and a chapter in Kingston led, Carnright claimed, by Griffin, who provided the cocaine which served as the gang’s economic engine. King, Carnright said, was targeted by the gang for violating the “Code of Silence” which mandates retribution against anyone who spills gang secrets or cooperates with police against gang members.
“This is not a kids’ gang that gets together to play kickball in the minister’s backyard. Sex Money Murder is real,” Carnright said in his opening argument. “They control neighborhoods through intimidation and the one golden rule in the gang is that nobody testifies against a gang member.”
Just before noon on Nov, 21, 2009, there was an exchange of gunfire on Henry Street near Broadway. Police say Curtis “Black” Williams fired a sawed-off shotgun over the heads of a group of five or six Sex Money Murder members and associates as they stood on a porch on that autumn Saturday late morning. Testimony at Williams’ trial last month indicated that he was angry and concerned that SMM members were threatening his son, a student at Kinsgton High School. According to prosecutors, Rankin returned fire with a pistol, striking Williams in the face. Williams survived and disappeared from Albany Medical Center three days after the shooting, before police could question him about the incident. He remained on the run until April 2010 when he was arrested in the Bronx and charged criminal possession of a weapon. On March 4 of this year he was acquitted on all charges related to the incident.
Three days after the shooting, Rankin was arrested as he stepped off a train in Poughkeepsie. He was arraigned on felony assault and weapons possession charges and sent to the Ulster County Jail without bail.
‘Make sure it don’t happen’
According to prosecutors, within weeks of his incarceration in the Ulster County Jail’s A-Pod, which houses young prisoners, Rankin, 19, initiated a plot to identify whoever told police about his role in the Henry Street shooting and shut them up for good.
Rankin’s then-girlfriend, Dametria “Meaty” Kelley, took the stand and admitted that she served as Rankin’s go-between, relaying information about the hunt for the informant between him and other gang members. Kelley appeared shaken and tearful on the stand, at one point being escorted to a bathroom by court officers after she became physically ill during a break in her testimony. When asked by Carnright how she felt testifying, Kelley said “stress” and “fear,” telling Carnright that she was afraid “somebody’s going to kill me next.” Kelley, who admitted aiding the conspiracy and being present in the alleged getaway car the night of King’s killing, testified in exchange for an agreement from the District Attorney’s Office not to pursue conspiracy charges which could have sent her to state prison for 25 years.
Kelley verified recordings of 12 phone calls made to her cell phone by Rankin from the jail between Nov. 29, 2009, five days after his arrest, and Jan. 29, 2010, 11 days before the shooting. The calls, like all inmate calls from the jail, were recorded by an automated monitoring system.
In the calls, Rankin never mentions King by name. But Kelley and fellow witness Amanda “Blazer Bitch” Miller (who, like Kelley, testified in exchange for a promise that she would not serve prison time on conspiracy charges) said that Rankin spoke in code when discussing the identity of the alleged informant. King is referred to variously as “That little nigga with the ponytail” and “Son” while his stepbrother and alleged SMM member Lee “Justice” Gray, who was also under suspicion by the gang, is called “That little blazer” (“blazer” is Bloods slang for an SMM member) and “Justice.” In the calls, Rankin instructs Kelley to “stay on top of this” and indicates that she should pass along messages to alleged SMM member Rondy “Ski” Russ. On Jan. 15, 2010, one day after King testified to an Ulster County grand jury about the Henry Street shooting, Rankin called Kelley with instructions to “Holla at Ski, tell him to make sure that shit don’t happen and if it does happen, he’s going to be held accountable for it.”
At no point does Rankin discuss the alleged snitch hunt in explicit terms and, in one call, he abruptly changes the tone of the conversation after apparently being spooked by an echo on the telephone line. In a Dec. 4, 2009, call to Kelley, Rankin is heard declaring “I’m a fucking gangster,” before reversing course and declaring, “I’m not violent, I’m not no fucking gangster, I don’t know why you even talking like this over the phone. I’m a goddamn Christian — I’ve never committed an act of violence against another human being and it is not my intention to do so.” Rankin closes with an apparent jab at anyone monitoring the call with the words, “Thanks for listening.”
Found out, and in the crosshairs
By Mid-January, according to Kelley’s testimony, the gang had learned that King was the witness in the Henry Street shooting case. Kelley testified that after she informed Rankin that she had learned from a woman that King planned to testify in the case, Rankin instructed her again to reach out to Russ and “make sure it don’t happen.”
While Rankin was monitoring the effort to find the leak from jail, Carnright said gang members on the street were actively seeking King. Miller testified that she, as the only gang associate with a car, frequently served as a driver for the gang on various errands, including drug deals and attempted robberies. By mid-January, she testified, the gang had focused on King as the suspected informant and members were actively patrolling the streets of Kingston looking for him.
“Every day, when we were out with any (gang) members in the car, they would look and see if they could find C.J,” Miller testified. King, meanwhile, had left town and moved to Lake George to stay with a girlfriend after testifying. Family members have previously said that he feared retribution from the gang. Unable to locate King, Carnright alleges, the gang went after his father, Charles King Sr., to issue a warning. Miller and Kelley testified that one day in mid-January they were riding in Miller’s white Honda Accord with Russ when they spotted the elder King in front of the Cedar Street Deli on the corner of Cedar and Prospect streets. Both women testified that Russ instructed them to pull over, rolled down the window and spoke to King while holding a box-cutter in his hand. In Miller’s version, Russ asked King if he had seen C.J., then told him, “If he doesn’t find him we will kill his whole family.” Kelley testified that Russ told King they were looking for C.J. while flipping the blade of the box-cutter up and down.
‘Get over to Cedar Street ASAP!”
On the night of Feb, 9, 2010, Carnright alleges, Sex Money Murder finally saw their chance to silence King.
Around 6:30 that night, Miller and Kelley testified that they had driven to a laundromat on West O’Reilly Street to drop off a load of clothing. After picking up Mattis, who had been released from prison in December after serving two years for robbery and assault, they headed over to Griffin’s house at 10 Pine St. They had just arrived when, Miller testified, her cell phone rang and alleged gang member Jermain “Maino” Nicholas told her to put Mattis on the phone.
“Then T. says we have to go to Cedar Street ASAP,” Miller testified.
Miller and Kelley testified that they got into the car with Mattis; a moment later Griffin came out of the house and held up a finger indicting that they should wait for him. Miller claims that as they sat in the car waiting for Griffin, Mattis remarked, “I hope he brings that.” While Griffin, upon getting into the backseat with Kelley, told Mattis, “I got the hammer,” referring to a pistol. Kelley testified that there was no mention of the gun during the short ride over to Cedar Street. Both women, in their initial statements to police the day after the shooting, denied knowing that anyone in the vehicle had a gun.
Miller and Kelley testified that by 6:35 p.m., they had pulled up across the street from the Cedar Street Deli where they saw Nicholas with C.J. King. The women testified that they stayed in the car while Mattis and Griffin got out and walked across the street to join Nicholas and King. Miller testified that before exiting the car, Griffin passed Mattis a pistol through the rear passenger side window. Kelley said merely that the window was “cracked.” Both women’s testimony varies from the statements given to police during questioning on Feb. 10, 2010.
A security camera outside the deli shows Mattis, Nicholas and King walking down Cedar Street towards Broadway with Griffin following a short distance behind. Moments later, the four men return into view of the camera. Nicholas and Griffin stand on the sidewalk in front of the store while Mattis and King continue walking up Cedar Street toward Clinton Avenue. As they pass out of view, Mattis appears to place a hand on King’s shoulder, and look over his shoulder at Griffin.
Kelley and Miller testified that as King and Mattis crossed Prospect Street and continued walking to a dimly lit area in front of 119 Cedar St., Griffin and Nicholas returned to the car and Griffin instructed Miller to make a U-turn and park beneath a tree further down Cedar in the same direction Mattis and King were walking.
Less than a minute after parking, Miller testified that she heard a single gunshot, glanced in the rearview mirror at where Mattis and King had been standing and saw “a single body standing there.” A moment later there was a second shot and, Miller said, she saw Mattis running back to the car. Kelley testified that she heard two shots, then Mattis jumped into the backseat telling her, “Nobody knows me, nobody knows what happened.”
Griffin, the women testified, then instructed Miller to drive to Abeel Street near the intersection with Wilbur Avenue where Mattis threw the gun and a pair of gloves into the creek. Miller also testified that during the getaway Griffin called his wife and instructed her to “get rid of whatever I got in the house” and clear the number from her phone. After dropping off Mattis, Griffin and Nicholas at locations around Kingston, the women testified that they returned to the laundromat on West O’Reilly Street to pick up Kelley’s laundry.
While the alleged hit team scattered, Rankin called Miller from jail at 9:03 p.m. According to Miller, Russ, who had been locked up on a parole violation in January, was on the line via a conference call. When told by Miller that “somebody got shot on Cedar Street tonight” Rankin replies, “That little short nigga?” Miller replied, “Think about it, you know who I’m talking about.” The call ends with a male voice; it is unclear whether it is Rankin or Russ bursting into a sing-song rap which, from the courtroom gallery, was largely incomprehensible.
Less than an hour later, Rankin calls back with an apparent warning for Miller that police are closing in.
“Somebody got shot on Cedar Street, a 21-year-old boy, and they saw a white car fleeing the scene,” Rankin told Miller. “They gonna holla at you soon … Don’t even talk to those people, don’t even talk.”
‘I just shot him’
Police arrived on the scene minutes after the first call of shots fired to find King laying in the gutter outside 119 Cedar with a gunshot wound to the back of his head and another to the back of his right arm.
KPD Detective Eric Van Allen said that soon after arriving on the scene, he learned that King had been at the deli with three juveniles. After rounding up the teens who had been hanging out with King at 103 Henry and accompanied him to the store, Van Allen said that he took the youths to KPD headquarters for questioning. One of the teens, Joe White, 16, testified that he saw King leave the store with a short dark-skinned man who told him “give us five minutes” before walking up Cedar Street.
Van Allen, along with fellow detectives Norman Good and Bob Henry, returned to the store, Van Allen testified, to examine video taken from the store’s security camera. According to Van Allen, the detectives quickly identified Griffin, Nicholas and Mattis and, based on a description of Miller’s car (which sported distinctive red rims) rounded up her and Kelley. Mattis was taken into custody at the morning after the shooting at an apartment on Rinaldi Boulevard in Poughkeepsie.
On the stand, Van Allen testified that Mattis initially denied being on Cedar Street that night. Then, halfway through a three-hour interview at KPD headquarters, Van Allen said, he confronted the alleged triggerman with incriminating evidence, including statements from White, video from the deli and a statement from Miller and Kelley who were undergoing interrogation in another room at the Garraghan Drive police station.
“After he was made aware of what we knew for sure, that’s when he began to tell us what happened,” Van Allen testified.
In a statement recorded at 8 a.m. on Feb. 10, 13 hours after the shooting and five hours after he was taken into custody, Mattis admits shooting King, but claims that he did so out of fear for his own safety, not as the executioner for a gang hit team. Mattis tells Van Allen that when he received a call telling him to get to the Cedar Street Deli ASAP, he was unsure whether the caller was a one of his friends or one of King’s associates. Mattis added that he feared the meeting with King was a “set up” and admits that he traveled to the store with a black revolver in the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. In the statement, Mattis says that he drove to the store with Kelley and Miller, but he makes no mention of Griffin or Nicholas.
In his account, Mattis claimed that when he met up with King at the store, he wanted to make peace, but King became agitated as the pair walked up Cedar Street together.
“I thought I was going up there to squash it but I guess I was wrong.”
Mattis told Van Allen that King began walking away from him, with, then placed his hand in the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt and made an abrupt movement as if to turn around.
“I didn’t give him a chance to do anything else,” Mattis told the detective. “I just shot him.”
While Carnright cast King’s slaying as a sinister conspiracy carried out by Griffin and Mattis, defense attorneys John Cobb, representing Griffin, and James Winslow, representing Mattis, picked away at the prosecution theory during cross examination of witnesses and by a stream of objections to testimony and evidence regarding gang affiliation and purported discussions of the conspiracy.
While the defense has not, as of press time, had an opportunity to present their case, both attorneys hammered away at inconsistencies between the statements Miller and Kelley made to police when they were taken in for questioning the day after the shooting and what they said to a grand jury and on the witness stand at trial.
In his cross examination of Miller, who, so far is the only witness who testified to seeing a gun in Griffin or Mattis’ hand, Cobb confronted her with her own written statement made to police on Feb. 10, 2009, which reads, “I never expected a shooting to happen […] I had no idea anyone had a gun in my car.”
Cobb and Winslow both suggested that the women, who had been facing up to 25 years in prison on conspiracy charges, changed their accounts to fit the prosecution theory of the crime after Carnright offered them deals. Carnright confirmed that in exchange for truthful testimony he would not purse charges against Kelley. Miller, meanwhile, would be spared time in state prison. Both women were released from the Ulster County Jail after they agreed to serve as prosecution witnesses.
“It will keep me out of the prison, it will get me my freedom,” Miller replied when asked by Cobb what benefit she would receive for her testimony.
Kelley, meanwhile, admitted that she initially lied to police, omitting mention of Gary Griffin’s presence at the crime scene and referring to Mattis as “Baby 2” when she was aware that his street name was “Little T.”
Detective Van Allen also faced cross examination on the circumstances of Mattis’ interrogation and confession. Winslow emphasized that on the night of the shooting, Van Allen, a ten-year KPD veteran, had been serving in the detective division for just six months. Winslow also questioned why Van Allen failed to record any portion of Mattis’ interview except a brief portion in which Mattis’ made the incriminating statement.
At one point, Winslow turned to Van Allen and asked abruptly, “When did you put your hands on his throat and threaten him?” prompting the detective to deny using threats or physical coercion.
“Because that would make you no better than the Bloods, right?” Winslow responded.
Van Allen also admitted that he told Mattis that Miller had told police that she saw Griffin pass him the gun out the car’s back window, when in fact she had denied knowing there was a gun in the vehicle. But the detective denied telling Mattis that if he made a statement describing the shooting as self-defense, he could only be charged with manslaughter.
Testimony in the trial is continuing and the Kingston Times will have continuing coverage on the web at ulsterpublishing.com and in our April 21 edition.