Laid Bare: Case of drug-dealing stripper murdered for snitching headed for trial

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Oct. 3, 2012

From left to right: Cherrie Marie Gammon, Donte Bernard Baker, and Gary Thenor Cromartie.

Cherrie Marie Gammon, a 25-year-old stripper at Club Pussy Cat on Baltimore’s Block, was due in court on Dec. 17, 2010 to answer to drug-possession charges filed that August. She didn’t show up.

Five days earlier, she’d died in a hospital after having been found by police, shot five times in the chest, near Leon Day Park in West Baltimore. Federal prosecutors allege she was killed over a $100 drug debt owed to the crew she was dealing drugs for, who suspected she was an informant who’d helped police make recent arrests, according to court records. The four people charged with murdering her are also accused of running a $14,000-a-week drug business, supplying heroin and cocaine to customers on the Block, using strip-club dancers as sellers.

A three-week racketeering-and-murder trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 5 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Prosecutors had hoped to seek the death penalty against three defendants—22-year-old Donte Bernard Baker, 23-year-old Gary Thenor Cromartie, and 30-year-old Tyrone Johniken—but their request to do so was denied by the U.S. Attorney General in March. Baker’s mother, 42-year-old Monica McCants, was added as a defendant in January 2012.

McCants is expected to testify for the prosecution, court records show, though she has yet to plead guilty in the case, which includes evidence that defense attorneys contend was improperly obtained from defendants’ statements to the police and from search warrants executed in the aftermath of Gammon’s murder.

The weapon used to kill Gammon has never been found, prosecutors said in recently filed court documents, though in August 2011 Cromartie divulged to police that it was in the home of Baker’s girlfriend.

Immediately after Gammon’s murder, court records explain, police canvassed potential witnesses, gleaning that Gammon worked at Club Pussy Cat as a stripper, that she’d been selling crack and heroin for Baker and owed him money for drugs, that members of Baker’s crew had been arrested, and that she was suspected of being the cause of those arrests by cooperating with law enforcers about Baker’s drug-dealing operation.

Recorded phone calls made from jail by McCants, Baker, and Cromartie are also expected to be introduced as evidence, and prosecutors have used some of them in motions filed recently. Conversations between Baker and McCants—who was charged with drug crimes in October 2010 and held in jail until being placed on home detention before Gammon was murdered—appear damning.

On Nov. 25, 2010, Baker told McCants that Gammon had told him that someone had stolen drugs from her locker at work. In response, according to court records, McCants said, “Take the bitch around the corner. Smack the shit outta her ass. Tell her that I’m gonna fuck her up when I come home. If she fucked up, she gotta get that money, work for that shit.” The next day, Baker told McCants that he would “make Cherrie give the money back.”

After Baker’s Dec. 27, 2010 arrest on state drug and guns charges, Baker told police he’d been a Block habitué since about 2003 but denied providing drugs to Gammon or having any knowledge about her murder. Cromartie, who was with Baker when he was arrested, but was not charged at the time, told police that Gammon was his “heart” and that she was killed for being a snitch; he couldn’t bear to look at the photograph of Gammon that police tried to show him.

Later, during an interview with police on Feb. 16, 2011, Cromartie said he “knew that Gammon had owed $100 because she used all of the pills from a package she was supposed to sell,” court documents say. On the same day, Baker initially told police he made $500 to $600 per night selling powder cocaine, but not heroin or crack, on the Block and supplied the operation by buying an eighth of an ounce about twice a week. But in the same interview, he came clean, saying he did sell drugs with Cromartie and Johniken and supplied Gammon, who made deliveries to customers in the club. Baker estimated he made about $14,000 a week in profits, using strippers “from different clubs” who would send runners to him “to purchase narcotics for the club,” according to court records.

Investigators tracked the location of Baker’s cell phone on the night of Gammon’s murder and found that it traveled from the area of Gammon’s home to the Block, then to the Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park area—where Gammon was shot—and onto the vicinity where McCants was on home detention, in the 3900 block of Edmondson Avenue. Gammon’s cell phone has never been recovered, prosecutors say in court documents, but records show the last call she made before her death was to Baker, who promptly cancelled his cell phone service after Gammon’s death.

Prosecutors anticipate that McCants will testify at trial, when she’s expected to repeat what she said during a January 2011 recorded statement she made to police: that she’d heard Gammon was a “snitch” and had shared that information with Baker, Cromartie, and Johniken, who arrived at McCants’ home-detention house in the early-morning hours of Dec. 12, 2010, after Gammon was shot. That’s when Johniken told her, “I shot [Gammon] five times in the chest,” and Baker said, “I wasn’t the shooter.” Johniken, court records say, has asserted an alibi, saying he was in Pittsburgh on the night of Gammon’s murder due to his father’s death.

Trial testimony is also expected to include an eyewitness who heard Cromartie tell Gammon, as he picked her up at her home on the night of the murder, “You know why I’m here, bitch.”

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