By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Inside the traps, South Dallas kids cut and bagged rocks and ordered around the users--the butt side of the bottom rung in the hierarchy of the streets--like slaves. Their Jamaican lords would cruise by several times a day to deliver more dope and scoop up piles of cash.
And so it was that Kenneth Covington, a 19-year-old small-time dope dealer, was doing his shift in an upstairs apartment at 2727 Cleveland St. on May 31, 1990, smoking weed, drinking cheap beer and working with his two helpers, Daryl Oudems, 13, known on the street as Youngster, and Juniores Ray Mahan, a 15-year-old buddy of Oudems nicknamed "Red." Folks knew it as Kenny's place, but Oudems was actually the chief of the dope house, and the skinny boy was suited for the task. He knew South Dallas as well as anyone, having grown up in a tough area on Elihu Street near Fair Park, and he'd been in the game since he was 9, carrying a weapon, working as a lookout in crack motels. His taciturn manner was strictly business, just the way his Jamaican bosses wanted it. As usual, the men who came by to pick up the cash--Oudems knew them by their street names, Junior and Chris--melted away whenever things got hot, leaving children to deal with the consequences.
This was a new location, open about a week, and business was slow, so to pass the time Covington invited over 16-year-old Lizzie Williams, whom he'd seen earlier in the day. She brought along her cousin, a street-tough, smart-mouthed little gangbanger named LaTonya Williams. Unit 205 was one of only two occupied apartments in a clapped-out complex, supposedly run by the Allen drug ring, and few users made their way there that night. At about 1:40 a.m., when the most desperate dope fiends are trolling the streets, a pregnant woman and a younger man walked up the stairs. They fit the early-morning profile: willing to trade anything for $50 rocks, from a pair of snakeskin boots to an old Cadillac Seville parked outside. LaTonya Williams was sitting on a couch facing the front door with Lizzie and Red, watching Covington try on the boots, and she picked up something strange: The woman insisted on keeping the front door open a crack while she bargained. Even a dope house has rules, and Williams, streetwise beyond her 16 years, knew that users didn't tell folks how to run their business.
LaTonya was on edge, but she never had a chance to react. Just three minutes later, she'd testify, she heard the sounds of men clambering up the concrete stairs. A pack of Jamaican gangsters--five or six, with high-caliber weapons in hand--pushed aside the two dope fiends and shoved their way into the apartment.
"Everybody get the fuck on the ground!"one hollered.
Covington was grinning, chuckling at first. He thought it was a joke; he knew these guys, even called some of them by name. Oudems thought it was a game, too. When the Jamaicans pointed guns in their faces and started smacking Mahan upside the head with an Uzi, they realized there wasn't anything to laugh about. The kids hit the floor.
The gangsters--one in a black ninja suit, others wearing towels wrapped loosely around their faces--kicked over furniture and demanded to know where the kids had hidden the money and drugs. One pistol-whipped Mahan until his face was covered with blood. Others yanked off Oudems' necklace and kicked him in the head. More gunmen milled around outside, distracting Pops, an old crackhead who stayed in a first-floor unit at the complex.
Inside the trap the kids cowered and Covington cried. But LaTonya looked boldly into the gunmen's faces. "What the hell?" she thought. "I'm gonna die anyway." One kid she recognized immediately was a boy she'd known from Lincoln High School, a South Dallas wannabe called "Money Mike." Her courage--or plain ornery nature, to hear her tell it--would later be a key to cracking the case.
No one knows how long the gunmen were there, but at some point the atmosphere shifted. The gangsters found the dope and money--chump change--and what started as a robbery turned to something else. By then, the pregnant woman and man, so eager to score a rock, had slipped out the door, never to be seen or heard from again.
One of the gangsters ordered the boys to strip naked and climb into the apartment bathtub, and Youngster got in first while a man armed with a pump-action shotgun guarded him. The other boys joined him later, butt naked and terrified. The girls were next: Lizzie did as she was told and pulled off her clothes, but LaTonya defiantly hung on to her bra and panties, fearing she'd be raped. They crouched beside each other, heads down, flesh against flesh.
One gunman turned on the faucet, and cool water started gushing into the tub; he might as well have cued up the scary music. Another stood beside him in front of the tub, weapon in hand, and Money Mike was in the bathroom doorway, LaTonya would later testify, one foot in, one foot out. Covington started chattering nervously, asking Money Mike if they were going to kill him. At one point, he addressed one of the gunmen as "Babyface."
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