From left, Matthew Breedon, Jason Alexander and Heather Lanier, members of the Dougherty Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office Organized Crime Prosecution Unit examine evidence in a gang-related case.
ALBANY -- With a 98-percent conviction rate since teaming up, a local prosecution team remains hungry to put more gang members behind bars in 2010.
Three members of the Dougherty Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office specialize in combating the growing scourge of gangs in Albany and Dougherty County.
Assistant District Attorneys Matthew Breedon, Heather Lanier and investigator Jason Armstrong formed into the "Organized Crime Unit" about 2 years ago, Breedon said. Since then they have put 54 gang members in prison.
"We will keep prosecuting the gangs and we are sending them a message," Breedon, 30, said. "We are out to get them. We have 100s of cases ahead of us."
The team formed at first as more of a cooperative effort than a formal team back around 2007, Breedon said. With the passage of a law that allowed a more aggressive prosecution stance against gangs for "Participation in Criminal Street gang Activity," the team hardened its resolve.
Then, as each grew to know more about their skill sets and how they meshed, it became easier to work together as a unit.
There were 23 cases pending against gang members when the team formed. All of those cases were missing witnesses, needed further investigation and were not ready for trial, Breedon said.
Due to the dogged investigation efforts of Armstrong the team could prepare witnesses, gather evidence to present and close out the 23 cases in a year.
Only one gang member did not receive a guilty verdict in the early days of the team's gang prosecutions, Breedon said. That gang member, Timothy Warren Murray Jr., 19, was later killed by another gang member, Breedon said.
"We have seen gang members sentenced to more than 1,000 years in prison," Breedon said. "Next we are prosecuting Eastside Bloods involved in a shooting at the carver pool."
The team acts seamlessly in its prosecution style as anyone who watched the sentencing of CME Rattlers leader Michael Jerome Williams could tell. Williams was 22 on Dec. 1, the day he was sentenced to 40 years mostly for street gang terrorism.
During the sentencing hearing Breedon opened the presentation, Armstrong testified to the evidence collected and Lanier questioned witnesses. Breedon wrapped up with a closing argument for a still sentence.
"We each do what we do best," Lanier, 30, said. "Matthew is the best with closing arguments, so he closes."
Breedon and Lanier came to the District Attorney's Office from a stint at juvenile courts in the jurisdiction. They know their gang members.
"I've been following Williams since he was a juvenile," Lanier said. "We were ready for him."
Breedon casually talks about the kinds of cars the gang members drive and other details of their lives. Many times those details on gang members, their lives and operations come from informants Armstrong has cultivated.
Armstrong was recognized by his peers naming him "Officer of the Year" at a dinner held by the local Georgia Sheriff's and Police Intelligence Unit.
"There will be others in gangs coming up, but we can put them away too," Armstrong said. "I think we can do some real good for the community."
The team acknowledged the efforts of the Albany police Department's gang Task Force and all the other policing agencies in the war against gangs. But when it comes to trial day, when it comes to sending the gang members to prison, the team stands ready to slog it out with any defense attorneys that cross their paths.
Breedon called these the most serious case convictions:
- Eric Bernard Jackson, a Rattler, sentenced to life plus 15 years for felony murder.
- Michael Jerome Williams, Rattler leader, sentenced to 40 years for gang participation and perjury.
- Montrell Mallard, an 8-Tray Crip, sentenced to 29 years for the shooting of Monroe High School student Decarious Williams.
- Kentrell Reed, an 8-Tray Crip, sentenced to 30 years in prison for the shooting of Decarious Williams.
- Travis Miller, an 8-Tray Crip, sentenced to 30 years, must serve 15 in prison for the shooting of another gang member.
- Desmond Oliver, 8-Tray Crip, 20 years for aggravated assault;
- Anthony Hill, a Blood, 40 years for manslaughter, must serve 10 in prison.
- Patrick Thomas, a Blood, 40 years for manslaughter, must serve 16 in prison.
- Ronald King, a Rattler, life in prison for murder.