A drug dealer was convicted Friday of using a contraband cell phone from jail to orchestrate the death of a witness, a killing that heightened calls around the country to jam phone signals in the lockups.
Patrick A. Byers Jr., 23, faces the possibility of the death penalty after being convicted on eight of nine counts in a federal indictment, including murder of a witness and use of cell phones to facilitate a murder-for-hire. Byers was found innocent of one handgun charge.
His co-defendant, Frank K. Goodman, 23, was convicted on all seven counts that he hired the gunman after receiving a call from Byers. Goodman could get a life sentence.
After more than three weeks of trial, jurors found Byers and Goodman responsible for the death of Carl S. Lackl Jr., a 38-year-old single father slain in July 2007 in a drive-by shooting outside his suburban Baltimore home.
Prosecutors say Lackl, a witness against Byers in an earlier killing, was lured outside his home by phone calls about a car he was trying to sell. He was shot four times by a teenager firing from a car window with a .44-caliber handgun, authorities said.
Authorities in several states cited the case to back their requests to jam cell phone signals in prisons and jails. The federal Communications Act prevents states from using jammers or otherwise interfering with federal airwaves and makes no exception for law enforcement.
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said the government should do everything in its power to get rid of cell phones in prisons and jails.
"If we, in the United States, cannot block a signal effectively, then that's a problem," Cummings said.
Authorities said records from the cell phones used to call Lackl ultimately pointed back to Byers, who was in the city jail on murder charges — thanks in large part to Lackl. Byers had been scheduled to face trial a week later in a March 2006 fatal shooting. Prosecutors say Lackl's fate was sealed as soon as he identified Byers from a photo lineup as the man he saw running away from the shooting scene and throwing away a gun.
At trial, prosecutors said Byers worked through intermediaries to order Lackl's death. First he called Goodman, who reached out to a member of a gang who delegated the task to a 15-year-old triggerman, they said.
Prosecutors also revealed before the trial began that Byers had gotten hold of another cell phone, which he used to call a different witness who later recanted his earlier statements against Byers.
Neither Byers nor Goodman reacted visibly as the verdicts were read. But Goodman later buried his head in his hands as his sentencing date was discussed. Lackl's relatives sobbed, and his mother embraced the lead prosecutor after the hearing.
The penalty phase is scheduled to begin April 27.