Lingering hostility between two gangsters who have children with the same woman may have been what sparked the fatal shooting of a third man outside a Hillyard apartment complex in January.
Seven men now face charges in the Jan. 17 shooting death of John S. Williams, the city’s only homicide this year.
Documents filed Thursday in Spokane County District Court show four suspects – accused triggerman Edward L. “TD” Thomas, 24; and alleged co-conspirators, Christopher J. “Baby Boy” Route, 24, John E. Burton, 27, and Marc A. “Bookie” Carter – remain at large. Thomas is charged with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder; the others are accused of conspiring to help carry out the slaying.
Three men charged with rendering criminal assistance and conspiracy – cousins Eric “Smalls” Burton, Jr.., 25; Cedric E. “Dirty” Burton, 23; and James C. Henderson, 33 – are in jail. Eric Burton and Henderson were arrested Wednesday night; Spokane detectives traveled to Los Angeles last month to arrest Cedric Burton on unrelated charges.
Police say most of the men are cousins and members of a Compton, Calif.-based gang. Los Angeles detectives are helping local police in the search.
The lengthy investigation included the earlier arrests of associates detectives don’t believe were present when Williams was killed but who are accused of possessing the murder weapon – a Ruger mini 30. Gang loyalties and fear hindered investigators – but a break came when Williams’ son, Curtis Smith, told police April 30 that Thomas killed his father. He said he initially lied because he feared for his life, according to court documents.
The shooting was the result of a rivalry between two generations of Spokane gang members, police said. Williams may not have been the original target.
“With all the different players involved, it just makes the investigation that much more difficult,” said Officer Jennifer DeRuwe, spokeswoman for the Spokane Police Department. “Gang violence is here. Spokane is on the map, and it has been for years. This is just another example.”
But Eric Burton’s lawyer, Chris Phelps, said the same information used to charge Burton with unlawful firearm possession in January was used in the new charges. He said probable cause didn’t exist to charge Burton with rending criminal assistance and conspiracy to commit second-degree assault and called the case an example of “the game playing that’s done by the detectives and the gang unit.”
Eric Burton’s wife, Lacey Meacham, criticized the investigation after her husband’s court appearance on Thursday. She said he isn’t a gang member, but he has family members who are.
“They don’t know anything about my husband,” she said of police. “He’s not a murderer. He happened to be at an after-party.”
Williams was shot dead in an alley behind 5405 N. Crestline St., where he had been celebrating the birthday of Ronald L. “Heavy” Shuler after a night of drinking at Casey’s bar. Shuler faces federal charges after police found six ounces of cocaine in his apartment after the murder.
Thomas shot Williams after Williams punched out the window of a Nissan Altima, according to court documents. Detectives believe, however, the confrontation was fueled by an earlier encounter between Thomas and Jerome Danner, who police say was associated with the same gang as Williams. Thomas and Danner have dated the same woman, who has given birth to children fathered by each of them, documents show.
Danner pulled a gun on Thomas, and Thomas needed to retaliate, police said. Smith was there at the time, and Williams, caught up in the melee, was a member of Danner’s gang.
“Part of the culture is that if you dis one, the other has to retaliate somehow,” DeRuwe said. “That’s how it ends up going back and forth.”
Several fights broke out at the party, and police say witnesses allege partygoers were groping strippers associated with the suspects shortly before the shooting.
A key witness for police, according to court documents, was Antonio E. Cook, Jr., 28, who was arrested a couple weeks after the slaying when police found his fingerprints on the rifle. He’s expected to enter a plea on that charge and unrelated robbery and assault charges next week.
Cook reportedly told police Thomas admitted to shooting Williams six or seven times before firing a single round into his face at close range, documents say. Cedric Burton picked Thomas up from Cook’s home the day after the murder; Route, Henderson and John Burton, Cedric Burton’s half-brother, are accused of helping destroy evidence and lying to investigators.
Cook said he bought the murder weapon, which was stolen in a Chattaroy burglary Jan. 4, from 30-year-old Justin A. Battle, who also has been charged with illegally possessing it. Nineteen-year-old Elexander Burgess also is charged with possessing the gun. Police believe he gave the weapon to Thomas at Cook’s instruction.
Police found the mini rifle in the back seat of a rental car driven to the party by Eric Burton. Investigators believe miscommunication between Burton and Thomas kept him from moving the Altima before police arrived.
Thomas faces one count of first-degree murder for Williams’ death and one count of attempted first-degree murder for the shots he allegedly fired at Williams’ son, Smith.
Route, Thomas, Cedric Burton and Eric Burton were convicted of felony assault or riot for a January 2005 gang shooting outside Crazy 8’s bar.
Williams’ mother, Cindy Williams, praised detectives for the arrests. She said her son, who was in an apprenticeship program at Spokane Falls Community College, was versed in gang life but tried to stay away.
“I’m just grateful that it’s finally getting close to an end,” Williams said. “All this supposed gang stuff, it’s all stupid.”