Special to the Banner-News
The Department of Justice today announced an indictment charging five men and a woman with aiding and abetting the use of a firearm to commit murder in aid of racketeering.
The six defendants are alleged members of the 100% Third Ward (103) Gang, which operates in and around the Third Ward area of Houston.
This is the first indictment returned as part of the Department of Justice Criminal Division's Violent Crime Initiative conducted in partnership with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Texas and local, state, and federal law enforcement. This joint effort, first announced in September 2022, concentrates on addressing violent crime by employing, where appropriate, federal racketeering laws to prosecute gang members in the southwest and southeast areas of Houston. As part of the initiative, the Criminal Division has dedicated attorneys and other resources to prosecute violent offenders and to assist intervention, prevention, and reentry efforts to address the root causes of violent crime, including through funding provided by the department's Office of Justice Programs.
"Since we announced the Violent Crime Initiative less than six months ago, our dedicated prosecutors and agents have been working tirelessly to target the 'worst of the worst' violent gang members that are terrorizing Houston residents," said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department's Criminal Division. "These efforts have led to today's announcement of an indictment charging half a dozen 103 Gang members with murder as part of their war with a rival gang. But we recognize that the fight against violent crime requires more than just enforcement actions and we are continuing to engage directly with the community to build trust and allow for meaningful and sustained change."
"To gang members and others infecting our streets with this type of crime – the power of the federal government is here. We will not stop. We will find you. No matter how long it takes, we will prosecute and ensure you pay the price for your actions," said U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani for the Southern District of Texas. "A priority of this office, every day, is for the Third Ward's children to feel safe in their homes and on the streets from the terror of local gangs, and we will work with all partners and use all tools to make that priority a reality."
The defendants are Shaquile O'Neal Richards, 29; Alexandra Elizabeth Nicks, 23; Deandre Watson, 24; Marcus Dewane Christopher, 26; Marquis Juwan Erskin, 29; and Mertroy Harris, 32.
The defendants, all from Houston, are charged with their involvement in a murder that occurred on London Street in the Third Ward in Houston in October 2017.
As alleged in the indictment, Richards was incarcerated in a state prison for aggravated robbery when he and Nicks ordered 103 Gang members to shoot members of a rival gang as part of an ongoing gang war. On Oct. 16, 2017, Watson, Christopher, Erskin, and Harris allegedly saw someone they believed was a rival gang member. They allegedly opened fire at that individual, who was standing with another man. The suspected rival gang member was shot and injured, but the other victim, not part of any gang, was killed.
After the shooting, Watson, Christopher, Erskin, and Harris allegedly attempted to flee in a stolen car but drove into a ditch. The four allegedly fled that car, and Watson, Christopher, and Erskin then carjacked another vehicle by forcing a woman and child from it.
"These indictments highlight the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) commitment to investigating and bringing to justice those who use firearms to terrorize our communities," said Special Agent in Charge Fred Milanowski of the ATF. "Our streets are safer today because of the diligent work done on this case by ATF and our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners that comprise the Violent Crime Initiative."
"Gang violence impacts nearly every aspect of our communities, from the safety of our streets to the quality of life in our neighborhoods," said Assistant Director Luis M. Quesada of the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division. "The FBI will continue to work with our partners and use every available tool to combat the fear and violence caused by these gangs and bring them to justice."
"The commitment to putting violent offenders in jail and getting guns off our streets is a high priority," said Chief Troy Finner of the Houston Police Department (HPD). "I am so grateful and proud of this collaboration with our federal partners that allows us to continue to put criminals in jail and seek justice for those victimized by violent crime."
According to the indictment, the 103 Gang is an enterprise that engaged in criminal acts involving murder, robbery, narcotics distribution, and assault. The 103 Gang allegedly recruits new members primarily from the neighborhoods within the Third Ward area. Gang members use violence, threats of violence and intimidation to protect the power, reputation, and territory of the 103 Gang, according to the indictment.
If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum penalty of life in prison or death.
The ATF, FBI, and HPD investigated the case with assistance from the Texas Anti-Gang Center.
Trial Attorneys Ralph Paradiso and Sheila Lafferty of the Criminal Division's Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Richard Hanes and Heather Winter for the Southern District of Texas are prosecuting the case.
An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.