Crime

Federal judge denies bond for gang members charged in Lake Wylie killings

Members of the United Blood Nation gang are accused of killing Doug and Debbie London to block testimony in a robbery case.
Members of the United Blood Nation gang are accused of killing Doug and Debbie London to block testimony in a robbery case. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Last October, during a phone conversation from his jail cell, gang leader Jamell Cureton asked to have Randall “Foe” Hankins put on the line.

“I have some sh-- I got to get handled,” he told Hankins, according to prosecutors.

“I’m already on it,” Hankins replied.

Two weeks later, Doug and Debbie London were gunned down in their Lake Wylie, S.C., home. Federal prosecutors say the killings occurred to keep Doug London from testifying against Cureton and two other members of United Blood Nation, an East Coast gang with strong criminal ties across Charlotte.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Greene told a federal judge on Monday that Cureton and other members of the local UBN cell known as the Valentine Bloods planned the murders for weeks. Cureton, she said, took the leading role, despite being jailed at the time on charges that he and two other gang members tried to rob the Londons’ mattress store on South Boulevard last May.

The mid-level gang leader known as “Murda Mel” and “Assassin,” called meetings, made phone calls, even wrote out orders on how how he wanted the killings carried out, court documents say.

At one point in a conversation recorded by the FBI, Hankins asked Cureton if he wanted “One or two weeks?”

Translation: Did he want one of the Londons’ killed or both?

“Yeah, two weeks,” Cureton replied, according to Greene.

Last week, 12 reputed UBN members were indicted on charges ranging from murder to racketeering and conspiracy. Cureton, Hankins and four other suspected members of gang are charged with the Londons’ killings. If convicted they face the death penalty.

Cureton and Ahkeem “Lil Keem” McDonald also are charged with the 2013 murder of Kwamne Clyburn, 18, who was shot to death in a southwest Charlotte park for claiming to be a member of the UBN cell when he was not. A conviction in this case also carries a maximum sentence of death.

Six of the defendants appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Cayer on Monday. Cayer ordered that five of them – Hankins, 20, McDonald, 21, his brother Rahkeem “Hitman” McDonald, 22, Centrilia “CeCe” Leach, 31, and Daquan “Day Day” Everett, 20 – be held without bail until their arraignments. All pleaded not guilty and requested jury trials. Greene told the judge that the five were flight risks and a threat to public safety.

The detention hearing of Nehemijel Houston, 20, was delayed until Friday at the request of his attorney. As the lanky Houston left the courtroom in the custody of U.S. marshals, a family member yelled out, “Love ya, baby.”

Rahkeem McDonald, Leach, Everett and Houston all face racketeering conspiracy charges connected to the Londons’ deaths. If convicted they could get life.

Cureton will be arraigned on murder and other charges on Wednesday morning. David “Flames” Fudge, 22, of Pineville, who is also charged with the Londons’ murders, will be arraigned Thursday.

The alleged shooter, Malcolm “Bloody Silent” Hartley, 21, and his get-away driver, Briana “Breezy B” Johnson, 19, of Concord, will have detention hearings after they are extradicted from York County, S.C., where the killings took place.

On Monday, Cayer had each of the six leg-ironed defendants brought in separately. Greene then read details of their gang activity and any role they played in the killings of Clyburn or the Londons. She frequently read excerpts from “recorded conversations,” raising the likelihood that the FBI used informants, wiretaps or sophisticated surveillance equipment to investigate the gang.

Hankins clinked in first. Greene described him as a “scrap,” gang parlance for a soldier in the gang. In the weeks leading up to the Lake Wylie hit, Hankins was a key planner of the attacks, Greene said. Afterward, Hankins was among the UBN members who celebrated at a gang hangout.

Court-appointed defense attorney James Weidner told Cayer that his client has been charged “with an incredibly serious crimem which is out of character with his past.” Hankins had a steady job and lived with his mother, the attorney said.

Given the chance to speak, Hankins asked Cayer in a low voice to allow bond because “I’d really like to continue my education and to work.” Cayer denied the request.

The McDonald brothers appeared in back to back sessions as their parents, siblings and other relatives spilled over into several rows of the small courtroom. Ahkeem, the younger, came first – waving and smiling at his loved ones before taking a seat. Defense attorney Mark Foster, a former U.S. attorney, said his client had little history of violence and lived with his mother. Greene, though, said Cureton considered “Lil Keem” an elite soldier – an “across town killer” – who appears to have been Cureton’s first choice to kill the Londons.

Rahkeem McDonald entered the courtroom with far less exuberance. Greene said he talked to Hartley and Johnson immediately after the killing and told them to come to his house. There, the prosecutor, Hartley and McDonald cleaned Johnson’s car, burned a letter from Cureton on how the killings were to be done. McDonald then buried the murder weapon, a .30-caliber handgun, behind his home. The FBI found it in January, Greene said.

Defense attorney Roderick Wright said his client had no role in planning or the execution of the killings. When Hartley and Johnson came to his home with the gun, “he had a decision to make,” Wright said. “It would be difficult for anyone to say no. You might have that gun turned toward you at that point.”

Rahkeem McDonald, who faces a possible life sentence if convicted on all charges, stared at his family and let out a deep sigh as he left the courtroom.

The conflicting portraits of CeCe Leach closed out the hearing. Greene said the former girlfriend of Cureton gathered information about the Londons’ and other possible gang targets, bought weapons and even photographed Debbie London when the mattress store owner attended a hearing for one of the men accused of attempting to rob her husband.

Leach was “an extension” of Cureton, Greene said as she urged Cayer to keep her jailed and “shut her down as a gang mouthpiece.”

Defense attorney Julia Mims, though, said her client worked in a clothing store, was attending Central Piedmont Community College and taking care of two children. She had only taken on gang responsibilities after being been brutalized by Cureton, Mims said. Now she wanted bond so she could move in with her mother in Raleigh.

“She wants to get out of Charlotte because she knows she’s in a lot of danger here,” Mims said.

Cayer refused to set bond. Leash was already crying as marshals began ushering her out of the room. “Get me a lawyer,” she mouthed her her family as the sound of sobbing followed her out of the room.

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