3 Bloods gangsters testify against Masiyah Howard at Chambersburg murder trial

Defendant Masiyah Howard listens to closing arguments in Mercer County Superior Court on Wenesday, May 3, 2017. (Gregg Slaboda Photo)

Defendant Masiyah Howard listens to closing arguments in Mercer County Superior Court on Wednesday, May 3, 2017.
(Gregg Slaboda Photo)

Going to trial without any eyewitness reports or direct evidence, the state’s murder case against Masiyah “Chicken” Howard relies primarily upon the sworn testimony of three so-called 793 Bloods street gang members.

Howard, 21, of Trenton, is accused of shooting and killing 25-year-old Louis Bryan Alvarez over a $20 dispute involving an Xbox video game system.

Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Heather Hadley on Wednesday conceded the state does not have any surveillance video, eyewitness accounts or direct evidence linking Howard to the February 2013 murder of Alvarez in Trenton’s Chambersburg neighborhood, but she said the state can prove Howard committed the brazen murder by assessing his alleged words of self-incrimination.

After authorities busted an alleged racketeering operation in Trenton that resulted in 20 members of the 793 Bloods set getting indicted in 2014, Howard allegedly told three of those gangbangers that he was in jail for shooting someone.

Those three hardened criminals — Kenneth Williams, Hector Maldonado and Joel Flowers — all took to the witness stand and testified under oath that Howard had talked to them about the slaying back when they were all housed together as inmates at the Mercer County Correction Center.

“They weren’t the best characters we could find,” Hadley said of the three gangsters-turned-snitches. But she said they are all credible witnesses, adding, “There would be no witnesses if the defendant didn’t tell his story.”

A snitch is a person who tells someone in authority about something wrong that someone has done. The Bloods gangsters became snitches against Howard, and Hadley suggested that Howard never saw that coming because, she said, Howard was conditioned to believe that gang members live by a street code that prohibits snitching.

Defense counters

Steven Lember, Howard’s defense attorney, chastised the state for relying upon the testimony of three gangsters who are seeking prison-sentence leniency for their guilt in other crimes. He accused the state of engaging in “confirmation bias” of believing in the flattery of non-credible snitches simply because their statements had confirmed the prosecution’s belief that Howard is the gunman responsible for Alvarez’s death.

“They all have motive to lie,” Lember said of Williams, Maldonado and Flowers, all of whom could have received 50-year prison sentences if convicted on their racketeering and gang criminality charges. The three gang members have each become state cooperating witnesses and all reached plea agreements in hopes of receiving lenient sentences.

Lember in his closing arguments on Wednesday further attacked the credibility of the three gangsters.

He said Maldonado is a “serial snitch” who had testified that Howard used a revolver in the slaying while evidence in the case shows that a weapon that discharges shells was used in the shooting. A revolver does not eject shell casings.

The defense attorney said Flowers, a reputed Bloods gang general, is “your perfect wolf in sheep’s clothing” and “a liar” who falsely testified to being Howard’s cellmate. Inmate records show the two were never cellmates, Lember said.

Then Lember mentioned the fact that Williams has been re-arrested on other charges ever since he became a state cooperating witness who had secured release from the county jail on condition of electronic monitoring pending sentencing. Williams previously pleaded guilty in 2012 to lying to a police officer.

Adult charges

Howard was 17 at the time of his arrest but is being tried as an adult. He has been charged with murder, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, and unlawful possession of a handgun in connection with the slaying of Alvarez.

Louis Bryan Alvarez

Louis Bryan Alvarez

The victim suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the chest inside his Trenton home on the night of Feb. 26, 2013. The shot was fired from outside the Fulton Street residence and shattered through a front glass window before striking Alvarez.

Speaking to the jurors, Lember said, “I ask you to return a verdict of not guilty on all counts in the indictment.”

The jury is expected to begin deliberating on Thursday.

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