Crime & Courts

Death penalty remains in play in Charlotte-area gang murder case

Doug and Debbie London were murdered in their Lake Wylie, S.C., home in October 2014. Federal prosecutors apparently have recommended the death penalty for at least one of three men accused of the killings
Doug and Debbie London were murdered in their Lake Wylie, S.C., home in October 2014. Federal prosecutors apparently have recommended the death penalty for at least one of three men accused of the killings London family

Federal prosecutors in the gangland murders of Doug and Debbie London appear to have homed in on three main targets: those suspected of planning the killings and the man accused of carrying them out.

Twelve accused Charlotte-area members of United Blood Nation are charged in connection with the October 2014 shootings in York County, S.C.

Seven have signed plea agreements. Prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office in Charlotte announced this month that they will not seek the death penalty against two other gang members.

That leaves three of the original defendants for whom prosecutors have not revealed their plans. They are:

▪ Jamell “Murda Mell” Cureton, described in court documents as ordering the hit on the Londons from the Mecklenburg County jail and then planning the killings through phone calls and letters.

▪ Randall Avery “Foe” Hankins, who prosecutors say ironed out key details during phone calls with Cureton.

▪ Malcolm “Bloody Silent” Hartley, who is accused of shooting Debbie London in the head when she answered the front door at her Lake Wylie home. He also wounded Doug London when he came to his wife’s defense, then went back to finish him off as he wept over his wife’s body, documents say.

Citing the ongoing nature of the case, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment Wednesday when asked if prosecutors had recommended death penalties for the three.

But in a motion filed this week, Hartley’s defense attorney, Rob Heroy of Charlotte, asked a federal judge to release more evidence involving his client so Heroy can prepare for an appearance before a Justice Department committee on Feb. 29 in Washington, D.C.

Under federal procedures in potential capital cases, both the prosecutors and defense appear before so-called “death penalty” committees. Members, in turn, recommend whether the death penalty should be sought. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch will make the final decision.

Attorneys familiar with the process say a defense attorney’s appearance before the Justice Department committee is a clear indication that a local prosecutor, in this case U.S. Attorney Jill Rose or her staff, is seeking the death penalty.

U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn will hear Heroy’s arguments Monday. The attorney said Wednesday that he filed the motion “so that we will know everything there is to know, one, to go to trial and, two, to deal with the possible capital case.”

As part of his motion, Heroy seeks 12 categories of evidence, including “information ... regarding whether the victims of the murder were engaged in criminal activity at or near the time” of their deaths. Asked if he had any knowledge that the Londons were breaking the law in some way, Heroy declined to comment.

He also declined to say whether attorneys for other defendants in the case will appear before the Justice Department committee.

Neither Rick Winiker, Cureton’s attorney in Charlotte, nor Jim Weidner, the Charlotte member of Hankins’ defense team, responded to requests for interviews on Wednesday.

The Londons were gunned down in their lakeside home to keep Doug London from testifying against Cureton and two other gang members who tried to rob the couple’s Pineville mattress store in May 2014, documents say.

Prosecutors charged six of the original defendants with crimes that carried a death sentence. Three – David “Flames” Fudge, Rahkeem “Big Keem” McDonald and Briana “Breezy B” Johnson, who drove Hartley to the Londons’ home, pleaded guilty last year and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

This month, prosecutors said they would not seek the death penalty against Ahkeem “Little Keem” McDonald, the gang’s original choice to carry out the killings. McDonald and Cureton are accused of the 2013 execution-style slaying of Kwamne Clyburn, a homeless teenager found in Pressley Road Park off South Tryon Street.

The five defendants whose cases are still pending – Cureton, Hartley, Hankins, McDonald and Nana Adoma – are scheduled to appear before Cogburn on March 21.

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS