Standing at a courtroom podium on the afternoon of March 14, an impassioned Don Henderson issued a fervent plea to Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams: Put my son's killer away forever.
Earlier that day, after just two hours of deliberations, a Fulton County jury convicted Jonathan Redding of the 2009 murder of Henderson's son John — a bartender at the now-defunct Standard Food and Spirits in Grant Park — as well as a slew of other violent crimes. Echoing an analogy made by prosecutor Gabe Banks about Redding's membership in the street gang 30 Deep, the elder Henderson begged, voice quavering: "I plead that the citizens of Atlanta, the Atlanta John loved, be spared any more violence from this 'wolf' from the 30 Deep 'pack.'"
Redding's demeanor during the proceedings made the analogy even more appropriate. The steely eyed 19-year-old sat at the defense table for the length of the five-day trial nearly expressionless and all but emotionless. He occasionally glanced over his shoulder in the direction of his family members with something akin to a smirk on his lips, like a kid being admonished by the vice principal for acting up in class — not one facing a life behind bars. Redding's mother, Dorothy, appeared to better comprehend the severity of her son's situation. Prior to sentencing, she also took to the podium to address the judge, tearfully pleading instead that the court take mercy on the boy she describes as a good kid who simply got caught up in the wrong crowd.
But mercy wasn't in the cards for Redding.
For the crimes of which he was ultimately found guilty — including armed robbery, aggravated assault, participation in criminal gang activity and felony murder for Henderson's death — he received a life sentence with 70 additional years in prison. Last Thursday, a day before prosecutors wrapped up their case against Redding, a team of U.S. Marshals and Atlanta police officers arrested more than 30 suspected 30 Deep gang members and associates. The court's tough stance and law enforcement's mass roundup appear to be a concerted effort to dismantle the 30 Deep "wolf pack" altogether. It remains unclear, however, how easy that will be.
For a time, the gang was colloquially known as the "Blue Jean Bandits," a group of young toughs whose M.O. was tossing rocks through boutique windows and stealing high-end clothing. They graduated to stealing cars and flat-screen TVs, and eventually, a jury decided, their recklessness led to murder. On Jan. 7, 2009, prosecutors say Redding and at least two other 30 Deep affiliates smashed a glass door at the Standard, intending to steal the TVs. Instead, the thieves ended up shooting Henderson — who was hanging out after his shift — twice in the leg. The fatal shot to the head was fired through a closed door as the thieves fled. Two days later, Redding himself was shot when he and fellow gang members invaded the Summerville apartment of Eddie Pugh, who they apparently believed had a stash of drugs and money. Redding recovered from his injuries, but prosecutors say he left behind a literal smoking gun: a 9mm Smith & Wesson spattered with Redding's own blood, and which ballistic experts said was one of the guns used the night of the Standard shooting.
The roundup and conviction of purported 30 Deep members has been swift and relentless in recent months. In early February, Redding's cousin, 30 Deep ringleader George "Keon" Redding, also received a stringent sentence — two life terms plus 40 years — for two 2007 murders. A month prior, police arrested nine alleged gang members for a series of smash-and-grab burglaries. And on March 10, after locating active warrants for 40 people believed to be associated with 30 Deep, the U.S. Marshal's Service launched its wholesale sweep, named Operation Zero Deep.
During Redding's trial, APD gang unit investigator Kimberly Calloway testified that she believes there are close to 100 members of 30 Deep on the streets, but said it's difficult to be sure because — besides being more loosely organized than traditional gangs — its membership is always growing. U.S. Marshal James Ergas says he's unsure how close law enforcement is to eradicating the gang from Atlanta's streets, or if that's even possible. "It's hard to say because they're very fluid groups of people," Ergas tells CL. "But I think that, as a group, whether they're committing crimes within 30 Deep or using different people, they're very dangerous." He says his organization will continue to take proactive measures, including checking the FBI's National database to see if any people they've identified as gang members have outstanding warrants.
Complicating law-enforcement efforts is 30 Deep's code of silence. During Redding's trial, the prosecution called on 30 Deep member Johnquavious Hood — who's currently incarcerated in another county — to testify. Shackled at the wrists and ankles and wearing navy blue prison scrubs, Hood was largely uncooperative, offering little more than yes or no answers to direct questions. Hood balked at the repeated reference to 30 Deep as a "gang," insisting instead that it's a "family." "What's the family about?" prosecutor Lance Cross asked him. "We get money ... however we plan to get it," Hood replied.
Both the prosecution and the defense expressed the belief that it was Hood, not Redding, who fired the fatal shots the night of the Standard murder. Even if Redding knows it was Hood's doing, he wouldn't say. "I don't want to testify," he muttered, shaking his head, when Judge Adams explained that he had the right to take the stand in his own defense.
It's worth noting that Eddie Pugh, who was to be the state's star witness against Redding, was shot in the leg — a wound that necessitated amputation — by an unidentified gunman wielding an assault rifle two days before Redding's trial was originally scheduled to begin. Pugh did not end up testifying.
Friends and family of slain bartender John Henderson have expressed their hope that Hood and any other possible participants eventually be brought to justice for the murder. Attorney Paul Howard couldn't say when or if an indictment was forthcoming, just that he wanted to "be careful" that their case against Hood is strong. "In a case like this, you want to make sure," Howard says. "It's safe to say we're still investigating [Hood's role]. As with some of the other cases in our community, we're not going to forget about it."
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