The Boulder Boys Must Die

When federal prosecutors seek the death penalty in drug-related murders, the defendants are almost always black. Why should Miami's first "kingpin" case be any exception?

Kevin McNally, an attorney from Frankfort, Kentucky, who runs the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project (a federally funded organization that provides assistance to federal public defenders and court-appointed attorneys working on death-penalty cases), says the kingpin statute was debated on the floor of Congress without any committee hearings, with Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-New York) its chief sponsor and most vociferous champion. Having passed in the House by a vote of 346 to 11, it won on a voice vote in the Senate three weeks before the 1988 presidential election and went into effect soon after George Bush's victory.

So hastily was the legislation written that it failed to designate a federal death row or a method of execution, and for the next half-dozen years the U.S. had a law under which a defendant could be sentenced to death but not killed -- purgatory on Earth. President Bush, at the close of his term, approved lethal injection as the method of execution. This past spring, the Federal Bureau of Prisons completed the first national execution chamber at a prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Though it was touted as a get-tough measure, only seven defendants were prosecuted under the statute in the first three years after its passage, with only one death sentence handed down. The Bush and Clinton administrations have been more active, pursuing 54 capital prosecutions under the kingpin law and the 1994 Crime Bill, which greatly expanded the range of executionable crimes. (The bill allows death-penalty prosecutions for several existing federal offenses, including hostage-taking, carjacking, and deprivation of civil rights, if those infractions result in a death. It also designates a number of new federal crimes -- first-degree murder of U.S. nationals abroad and death resulting from alien-smuggling, among others -- and applies the death penalty to those.) Of the 54 defendants, six have been sentenced to death. Eleven were given sentences short of death. Thirteen had their capital prosecutions discontinued by the government, one died prior to his arrest, and one committed suicide during trial. Twenty-two are awaiting trial.

Three of those are Boulder Boys defendants. Despite this region's dubious reputation as a drug-trafficking nexus, they are the first to stand trial in the Southern District of Florida under the seven-year-old law. And if federal prosecutors here are successful in making their case, the trio will be hustled off to Terre Haute, where a wing of the prison is being renovated to serve as the federal death row.

An FBI snitch triggered the Boulder Boys case. "In approximately February 1992, a confidential informant gave information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about a gang of drug distributors that were controlling a major portion of the Liberty City crack distribution business," Assistant U.S. Attorney Luis Perez explained during a hearing not long after the arrests. "The gang had moved into the Liberty City area after being pushed out of Opa-locka, where some of the members had previously been operating."

In their 22-page indictment, prosecutors claim that "the conspirators used intimidation and violence, including murder, to assert their authority in the drug business and to maintain the security of their drug operation. They acquired, possessed, and used guns to carry out these acts of violence and maintain their drug organization's prominence in the area in which they operated."

The Boulder Boys are said to have bought cocaine powder, which they processed into crack -- prosecutors have noted that one wiretap captured the sound of two defendants "actually cooking cocaine-base crack from cocaine hydrochloride" -- and distributed to street dealers at four locations the gang called "weight holes." One alleged site was near a bar called the New Frontier Lounge at NW 58th Street and 22nd Avenue in Liberty City. Another was on Ali Baba Avenue in Opa-locka; the remaining two were in the James E. Scott Homes public housing project, which straddles NW 22nd Avenue between 67th and 74th streets.

According to the prosecution, the organization was run by four men -- Edward Alexander Mack, Kevin Denard Rozier, Tracey Slater, and Samuel Gene Sharpe -- who organized their employees into a clearly defined hierarchy, outlined in the indictment: "Lieutenants" oversaw distribution at each hole; "lookouts" and "gunmen" handled security. "Packers" arranged the packaging of the drugs, while "runners" transported the product and "bombmen" sold it.

Several police raids turned up drugs and a laboratory's worth of paraphernalia.

The indictment, which attributes to each defendant various aliases -- "Cowboy," "Buddha," "Ninja," "Blackboy," "Boojay," "Slick," et cetera -- states that the Boulder Boys used "coded language [on the telephone] in an attempt to prevent detection" and that they "maintained written daily records of their drug deals, detailing which members were involved, and the amounts of money and drugs involved." FBI analysts have calculated that the group took in more than $30 million in its seven years of operation. Slater is said to have grossed $125,000 in one week. "I make $2000 every time I pick up the phone," Mack purportedly bragged during one wiretapped conversation.

The government backs its claim of the drug gang's "continuing pattern of indiscriminate violence" with a detailed list of armaments seized by agents: a 9mm Ruger pistol, a .38 caliber Taurus revolver, a .22 caliber revolver, a Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle, a Winchester twelve-gauge shotgun, an Armi Tanafoglio-Gardone .380 revolver, a Smith & Wesson .32 caliber revolver, a Rossi .22 caliber rifle, a Winchester .22 caliber rifle, a Davis Industries .380 caliber pistol, an Armalite rifle, a Smith & Wesson 44 Magnum and another Smith & Wesson pistol, a SIG Sauer pistol, a BB air gun, and a hunting knife, as well as hundreds of rounds of ammunition and one bulletproof vest. (No fully automatic weapons were seized, but police did find receipts for the purchase of one AK-47.)

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