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New York murder trial, which included witness with ties to Guyanese death squad, goes to federal jury

Crime scene tape runs across the entrance to a court yard across from 160 Park Hill Avenue in this 1996 file photo. Crime scenes and drug-related shootings were an all-too-common occurrence in the 1990s at the Clifton apartment complex.

By John M. Annese in Staten Island Advance SILive.com

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y.  — After a trial that included testimony from a killer with ties to a Guyanese death squad, a jury is now weighing the evidence against three brothers accused of killing a rival drug dealer outside the Park Hill Apartments in 1994.

The two-week trial against Brian (Brawl) Gill, 46, David (Plot) Gill, 43, and Samuel (Waco) McIntosh, 40, wrapped up Monday in Brooklyn federal court. Jurors finished their second day of deliberations Tuesday.

All three are accused of shooting Michael Dawson, 23, to death in broad daylight on June 22, 1994, in front of 160 Park Hill Ave., to further a drug-dealing conspiracy.

Prosecutors brought in a series of witnesses — including Paul (Uncles) Ford, a drug supplier and admitted murderer who testified to calmly watching Dawson’s killing as he sat in a taxi, because he was interested in seeing how the violent scene, and the brothers’ dispute with Dawson, would play out.

Ford also testified last month at the drugs-and-murder racketeering trial of brothers Anthony and Harvey Christian, who were accused of running the crack trade in the Park Hill complex for 20 years. Both were found guilty on Oct. 27, along with accomplice Jason Quinn.

The Gill brothers’ defense attorneys zeroed in on Ford’s criminal past, trying to bring up rumors that he had once decapitated a woman who lived on nearby Osgood Avenue.

“Do you remember killing a girl by the name of April and cutting off her head?” asked Kenneth Paul, Brian Gill’s lawyer.

As one of the prosecutors objected to the question, Ford responded, “No, no, not at all.”

In her closing argument, Kelley Sharkey, who represents David Gill, challenged Ford’s credibility as a witness, making references to his own testimony that he got his drug supply through a connection to the Guyanese “Phantom death squad,” and that the group had hired as an assassin in New York.

The squad, run by Guyanese drug lord Shaheed (Roger) Khan, is believed to be responsible for hundreds of killings in Guyana in the early to mid-2000s.

“Paul Ford came to the United States on a fake soccer scholarship and within a year, within two years, when he’s not even 20 or maybe just 20, he is making hundreds of thousands of dollars selling cocaine up and down the East [Coast]. And in the ’90s, who is he trafficking in drugs with? The Phantom death squad. I mean, this is a 5 o’clock movie on a Saturday afternoon,” Ms. Sharkey argued.

“You learned from Ford’s own mouth that the Phantom death squad in Guyana, it’s a hit squad. And rival political parties pay them money to kill their political rivals. ‘Assassin’s Creed’ in Eastern District Court. I am not kidding. Is this someone whose testimony you’re going to believe for half a second?”

“Assassin’s Creed” is a reference to a popular video game series.

Dawson’s murder took place during a violent era for the Park Hill Apartments section of Clifton — a neighborhood dubbed “Killa Hill” by the Staten Island-based Wu-Tang Clan rap group.

In the early 1990s — before authorities say the Christian brothers had solidified their grasp of the neighborhood’s drug trade — crack dealers would often rush out to greet potential customers in their cars, and the first dealer to get to a car got the sale.

Dawson, who went by the nickname “Nim,” was a Concord High School graduate and was studying sociology at the College of Staten Island. Back in 1994, his family said he was struggling to better himself, and had worked for about a year at a community residence for kids in Port Richmond, but couldn’t resist the pull of the criminal lifestyle.

”People will say it’s just another life wasted. But this time it’s my baby,” Dawson’s father, Kevin Caldwell, told the Advance a day after his son was killed.

Dawson had an arrest record dating back to age 17, and had done state prison time for gun possession. He had been dealing crack at 141 Park Hill Ave., but moved on to 160 Park Hill Ave. and pooled his money with one of Brian Gill’s friends, Donald (Don Don) Lewis, to get their product, prosecutors said.

That didn’t sit well with Brian Gill, who didn’t think Dawson could step up with the violence necessary to “protect the building,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nadia Shihata said.

Brian Gill “wasn’t happy with that arrangement,” Ms. Shihata said, telling Lewis that they “couldn’t count on Dawson to protect the building with violence.”

After the slaying, Brian Gill left Park Hill, but he returned in 2011, and he and his brother David went back to selling crack together, ultimately becoming the target of a federal wiretap investigation in 2013, Ms. Shihata told the jurors.

Ford had testified that, as he watched from a taxi, he saw all three brothers shoot and kill Dawson. Brian Gill used a machine gun, David Gill used a 9mm handgun, and McIntosh used a .38-caliber revolver, according to federal prosecutors.

Lewis also testified for the government, as did a security guard at the apartment complex who named McIntosh as the shooter, but hadn’t done so when testifying before a grand jury in 2013. The jurors also heard 911 recordings from the day of the shooting, as well as testimony from police investigators.

“The defendants shot Dawson because they didn’t want him selling crack at 160 anymore, their building, their territory,” said Assistant U. S. Attorney Alicyn Cooley. “They all fired their guns at Michael Dawson that day. In doing so, they helped each other commit this murder.”

Joyce David, McIntosh’s lawyer, said both Ford and Lewis had motive to kill Dawson. “Michael Dawson lost money. He left it in his apartment or his car, and supposedly it was stolen or taken by the police. But it was Uncles’ [Ford’s] money. OK. There is a drug business. If you take somebody’s money, they get you.”

Deliberations in the case will continue Wednesday