Police: York man executed for 'snitching' on childhood friends
- Police say convicted drug dealer and gang member Danny Steele refused to recant testimony that jailed his two boyhood friends for life.
Just days after Danny "Gamble" Steele was gunned down in York City in 2013, his uncle said it "didn't take a rocket scientist" to figure out that he was targeted — and likely why.
York City Police have now filed charges against the son of a man Steele testified against to secure a lesser prison sentence for himself.
Tobias Bethune-Banks, 21, who is in the state prison system himself, is facing a homicide charge, which was filed Thursday, Nov. 2, by York City Police Detective Paul DeHart III.
Steele testified against his two childhood friends — Melvin "Fatback" Bethune and Tysheem "Ty Boogie" Crocker — at the men's murder trial for the 1997 gang-war slaying of Raymond "Skip" Clarke.
Bethune and Crocker, convicted of first-degree murder, are serving life sentences for Clarke's death. Both men are now 40 years old.
Steele was sentenced to 2½ to five years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
Steele was no stranger to drugs, guns and the gang lifestyle.
Grew up together: Bethune, Crocker and Steele grew up together in the Bronx, according to Steele's uncle, Rameo Steele.
Steele was 36 years old when he was gunned down in his car Dec. 7, 2013, at the corner of North George and North streets.
At the time, Rameo Steele told The York Dispatch that his nephew's car was shot nine times and said he suspected it was payback for his nephew's trial testimony.
"That's someone who had it out for him — that's somebody who wanted him dead," Rameo Steele said, referring to the number of bullets fired. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out."
Payback: York City Police allege Bethune was trying to get Steele to recant his testimony and had enlisted the help of his son to do it. Bethune told fellow state-prison inmates that Steele was a "rat" who needed to sign an affidavit changing his story, charging documents state.
But after Steele refused, Bethune-Banks "aired him out," documents allege.
Bethune-Banks, formerly of Dallastown, told someone he was "pressing" Steele for the affidavit recanting his testimony but that Steele "continued to ignore the requests," documents state.
Bethune-Banks was at The Belmont, a former nightclub in North York, when he spotted Steele and asked him several times about the affidavit, but Steele turned him down, police said.
Police said Bethune-Banks later told someone he and two others then waited for Steele to leave the club and followed him, documents allege. Charges haven't been filed against the other two men at this point, and The York Dispatch is withholding their names.
Bethune-Banks and the men with him cut off Steele's car in traffic, police allege.
Bethune-Banks then fired repeatedly at Steele, later bragging that he "emptied out" his gun at Steele and "aired him out," documents allege.
1997 gang ambush: Clarke was gunned down Oct. 5, 1997, during an ambush as he and a group of men were shooting dice on a porch along East Maple Street. The group included Kendall "Do-Work" Smith, aka Kendu Hemphill, who also was raised in New York City and was a member of that city's "Gods" gang, police have said.
Police at the time said the Gods were in a drug turf war in York City with a Bronx gang called the "Cream Team," which also had come to York to sell drugs.
Police have said Steele, Crocker and Bethune all were members of the Cream Team.
The trio and four other Cream Team members approached the dice game, and all seven opened fire, according to testimony.
Only Steele, Crocker and Bethune were charged in the slaying, although the fatal shots likely were fired by a man known only as "Corleone."
The Cream Team members fired at least 40 bullets at the dice players, according to testimony, but the 19-year-old Clarke was the only person struck.
Police have said Smith was the intended target.
Steele agreed to testify against his childhood friends after he, Bethune and Crocker were charged with first-degree murder, police said.
Known as 'snitch': Prosecutors feared for the safety of Steele, who by that time was a known "snitch," they said.
Attorney Tom Kelley, then the first assistant district attorney, said Steele had received anonymous threatening letters from state prison and had been sucker-punched in a courthouse holding cell for testifying against his friends.
Kelley saw to it that Steele — convicted of dealing drugs a number of times — served his time in York County Prison, where officials decided he would be safer.
But his uncle said the Steele family didn't know "Gam" or "Gamble" the drug dealer. They knew "Danny," a sweet guy.
"Nobody deserves to get killed," Rameo Steele said after the slaying, noting his nephew's survivors included three children in York.
Bethune-Banks has not yet been arraigned on the homicide charge, according to court records, and he does not have a listed attorney.
DeHart, the detective who filed the charges, spent years chipping away at Steele's slaying before he was able to file charges, according to York City Police Capt. Troy Bankert.
"It was a very frustrating case. There was a lot of circumstantial evidence we had to confirm and corroborate," Bankert said. "(DeHart) was relentless with it and did a good job."
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.