Wave of intimidation and violence spooks witnesses in Heartless Felon’s murder trial, prosecutors say

June 15, 2018

Wave of intimidation and violence spooks witnesses in Heartless Felon’s murder trial, prosecutors say

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The suspected member of the Heartless Felons street gang on trial in five gang-related killings has orchestrated a campaign of intimidation and violence to sow fear in the people expected to testify against him, according to prosecutors.

The efforts included putting out a $20,000 hit on a key witness who was later shot in the face, and sending threatening messages to witnesses and their family members, prosecutors say. 

Da’Montais “Monte” Banks reaped the benefits of that campaign this week, as three people who earlier told police that they witnessed him carry out some of the killings have indicated they would not testify at his aggravated murder trial, Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Chris Schroeder wrote in a motion filed Friday.

Prosecutors are now arguing that Judge Kathleen Ann Sutula, who is overseeing the trial, should let them introduce the witnesses’ earlier statements to police into trial without having them take the stand. They claim that Banks forfeited his right to confront his accusers by conspiring to ensure that his trial “is held in a courtroom emptied by fear.”

Banks is charged in four fatal shootings that resulted in five deaths. Prosecutors say he drove the car from which Brendon “BB” Watts shot and killed Gregory Norman in an August 2015.

Banks is charged alone in the May 2016 ambush-style shooting of Dion Pratt.

In January 2017, prosecutors say Banks, Julius Claxton and Darien Hayes shot Carlos Hurt during a failed carjacking, then carjacked a woman, drove to the Harvard Wine and Grille and tried to shoot a rival gang member. The intended target, Jesus Bey, returned fire in a shootout that would eventually leave Claxton and Hayes dead. 

The $20,000 hit

One man who told police he watched Banks and Watts shoot and kill Norman in August 2015 was shot in December.

The man was walking along a street on Dec. 22, about 1,000 feet from where Norman’s drive-by killing took place when bullets came from a passing car. One bullet struck him in the face.

Santana Doss Jr., is charged in the man’s shooting. He pleaded not guilty and is set for trial in July. 

The man was subpoenaed to come to court and testify on Monday, but he never showed up because he was afraid of Banks and the Heartless Felons, prosecutors say.

He told a Cleveland police gang detective on Monday that, as he was recovering from the December shooting, someone slipped a note underneath the door to his room in a nursing home. The note included a message threatening him if he testified against Banks, the filing says.

He also received a text message from an unknown phone number with a photograph of his family walking into his home, and said he had heard that there was a $20,000 bounty on him, the filing said.

A confidential informant told police that Banks boasted to him about putting out a hit on a witness in his case who got shot in the face, and said it was his work, the motion says. 

And in October, two months before he was shot in the face, prosecutors say Watts called a man from jail and told him to post a photograph of the witness to his Instagram account.

Police and prosecutors have not heard from the witness since Monday and do not know where he is, the filing says.

‘She would kill her son herself if he testified’

Derrick Miller, who is a year into a two-year prison sentence on a robbery charge, told police last year that he saw Banks carry out a drive-by that killed Dion Pratt.

But when Miller walked into court Wednesday in an orange jumpsuit and his hands and feet shackled, he refused to take the oath.

“I ain’t got nothin’ to say,” Miller said before Sutula dismissed him.

Prosecutors said Miller told them days before the trial that he was in fear and that his family received threatening messages on social media.

Miller made a phone call from Cuyahoga County Jail on June 4, and the man he called said someone had posted Miller’s photograph online, the motion says. The man also said people had been asking about Miller in relation to Banks’s case.

“Man, oh my god, man,” Miller replied, according to the motion.

When Miller walked into the courtroom Wednesday, Banks and his brother, Denver Banks, both smiled at him and shook their heads, the motion says.

Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Andrew Santoli called Miller’s mother later that day with the hopes that she could convince him to testify. The mother told Santoli that there was no way she was going to let her son testify and, when Santoli asked if she was aware she was admitting to a prosecutor that she was attempting to obstruct justice, she said she wasn’t attempting anything, the motion said.

“She said that she was a ‘bear’ when it came to protecting her family,” the motion says. ”[Miller’s mother] said that she would kill her son herself if he testified in this case.”

Denver Banks, was arrested Thursday on outstanding misdemeanor warrants after a police officer recognized him in the back of the courtroom.

Calls from jail

Banks further tried to tamper with his case in late May by having other inmates in the jail call witnesses and read messages to tell them to “be ready” and try to keep certain people from showing up, the motion says.

One message said to “tell ‘Fifty’ to be there. “Fifty” is the nickname of Anthony Mitchell, who was shot alongside Pratt, according to prosecutors. Mitchell was arrested after he did not show up to court this week, and forced to testify on Friday. He said several times that he just wanted to go home, and said he didn’t see who shot him.

Mitchell said he knew Banks 15 years but said he didn’t know Banks’s nickname.

In another call, a man said “Monte” told him to tell him to make sure a woman does show up for court, because another witness had mentioned her name.

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