Byline: Josh Saul
The baby was in the bathtub, dead. When police arrived at the two-story home on To Lani Farm Road just outside the ring road that encircles Atlanta, they found four people with gunshot wounds in the upstairs master bathroom--two women lay injured on the floor and another woman was in the bathtub with KenDarious Edwards Jr., her 9-month-old son. KenDarious had been shot and killed.
His young mother was led out of the house covered in blood, saying over and over, "My baby is dead, my baby," according to the DeKalb County police report from the May 2014 attack. She later told CBS the gunmen kicked in the bathroom door and shot her son in the chest, arm and stomach. Because he had yet to live a full year, KenDarious's age is written on the report as "0."
At a vigil outside the home three days after the shooting, mourners sang hymns and begged for the shooters to turn themselves in, WSB-TV reported. Two members of the Sex Money Murder gang were arrested for the murder about a month later. Last year, one of them pleaded guilty in a bid to escape the death penalty. Then this week the DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James announced that the murder of KenDarious had been ordered by Kenneth Eric Jackson, leader of the Sex Money Murder gang in Georgia. The Sex Money Murder gang is a set or subsidiary of the Bloods, which originated in L.A. but has expanded across the country.
"We have communications via cellphone and through other methods between the people who committed the murder and Mr. Jackson," James tells Newsweek. "We also have evidence that he ordered that murder, that he authorized that murder, and that they checked with him before they committed the murder."
The murder of that infant raises disturbing questions about both prison security and how incarcerated gang leaders communicate with one another across the country. Not only did Jackson order the murder from inside a Georgia state prison with a smuggled cellphone, James says, but during the time of the shooting he was in touch with Sex Money Murder's top two commanders, both of whom were locked up in the federal SuperMax prison in Colorado. And he says that Jackson ordered KenDarious's murder in a "inner-gang retaliation" because the baby boy's uncle had killed a fellow gang member without permission. "Typically, in gang culture you cannot kill another member of the gang unless there's authorization from higher above," James says.
The murder of that 9-month-old boy also illustrates how local gangs in the Atlanta area have been overrun by national gangs like the Gangster Disciples from Chicago, or Sex Money Murder, which began in the New York City jail system in 1993 as a subset of the Bloods, according to court papers. "When I was growing up here most of what we called gangs were neighborhood gangs," says Lt. Corey Swain, head of the gang unit in the DeKalb County Police Department. "But now we have the national gangs that everyone has read about and seen movies about--[they've] actually moved into the Atlanta area."
About five years ago, local Atlanta-area gangs like Savage the Block began to be pushed out by national gangs, with the local criminals absorbed into the national organizations, says James. "It's almost like a hostile takeover, if I put in business language.-- What we started seeing in DeKalb County was a greater deal of discipline and organization [within the gangs.] We started seeing more murders, of gang members and of civilians." And those gangs have moved beyond their traditional urban strongholds to set up shop in the suburbs, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last year.
Warnings by DeKalb County cops and prosecutors that national gangs are powerful in Georgia are backed up by two sprawling federal indictments unsealed earlier this month that charge 48 members of the Gangster Disciples gang in Georgia and Tennessee with crimes ranging from murder to drug trafficking and extortion. "Atlanta has historically been resistant to the incursion of these national gangs, but unfortunately today's indictment shows how this landscape has changed in just the last few years," said U.S. Attorney John Horn of the Northern District of Georgia on May 4. The indictment also charged Vancito Gumbs, an officer with the DeKalb County police department, with being a Disciple gang member, and detailed how the gang operates in 24 states with a strict hierarchy and organization.
Another recent round of arrests may clear up how Jackson obtained the contraband cellphone he used to order the murder of KenDarious. Almost 50 correction officers with the Georgia Department of Corrections were charged in February with smuggling contraband into state prisons and accepting bribes for providing protection for drug deals. One of the officers charged with taking bribes to sneak illicit goods inside had worked at the same prison where Jackson was being held when he authorized the murder. (A court clerk said Jackson's case file didn't show whether he had a defense attorney.)
Law enforcement in DeKalb County says they aim to stamp out the national gangs but are still working to understand the organization and financial structure of the groups. "They get money with the robberies and burglaries that some of the young guys do, but what actually happens to all of the money, that's something I would love to graduate to one day learning," Swain tells Newsweek, adding that none of the gang members he knows have lavish lifestyles. (The federal Gangster Disciples indictment describes the head of the Georgia branch of the gang ordering Memphis members to hand over a greater percentage of their drug sales, implying that members must pass money up the gang hierarchy, a rough form of franchising.)
"We're going after the leadership. We're going after OGs, original gangsters, people who are orchestrating things," James tells Newsweek. "If you want to kill a snake, you have to cut the head off the snake."