Bernadine Sanders and Leslie Burt said Thursday they never thought anyone would answer for the shooting death of their brother, Bernard Houston, thought to be the first fatality in Tacoma’s gang troubles of 25 years ago.
It’s a good bet the three men dragged into Pierce County Superior Court minutes earlier had similar feelings.
Prosecutors charged Brian Clement Allen, Nathaniel Wesley Miles and Anthony Eugene Ralls with first-degree murder in Houston’s death. Not guilty pleas were entered on their behalves, and court Commissioner Meagan Foley ordered them jailed in lieu of $2 million bail each.
Two other men are charged in the case. Darrell Montae Lee and Terris Antonio Miller are serving prison sentences for other crimes and will be brought to court at a future date to enter a plea in Houston’s death.
All the defendants were teenagers when Houston was gunned down at a Hilltop intersection in August 1988. They are now in their 40s.
Allen and Ralls had jobs at the time of their arrests. Allen also was recently married. He was returning to his home in the Vancouver, B.C., area from a honeymoon trip to Mexico when he was arrested in Texas. Miles was living in Steilacoom and Ralls in Tacoma at the time of their arrests.
“Like a time capsule, this case reaches back to the early days of gang violence in Pierce County,” Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said. “Hard work and coordination by our gang unit and Tacoma police made this prosecution possible. This case serves as a reminder of how bad gang violence became, how well we’ve reduced the violence and how much work remains.”
Prosecutors allege the defendants, who either belonged to or were affiliated with the Bloods gang in the late 1980s, opened fire on Houston, another man and two women near South 23rd Street and South Sheridan Avenue, which was known to be Crips territory.
Houston, 17, was hit in the head and later died. The assailants fled in two cars.
Police detective John Ringer pursued the case for years, interviewing witnesses shortly after the shooting and again in 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2009, court records show. He used the information he gathered to slowly piece the case together.
The detective learned the attack on Houston, known to be a Crip, was in retaliation for an earlier shooting that targeted Bloods in another part of town, the records show.
A man who served time with Allen and had been a roommate of Ralls told the detective both men had admitted to the attack on Houston. Miller, Lee and Miles admitted to being at the scene of the shooting but denied firing at anyone, the records show. They put the blame on Allen and Ralls.
Sanders, Burt and Yvonne Heads, Houston’s cousin, described the victim has a happy, funny, charismatic young man.
“They thought they got away with it, but they didn’t get away with it,” Heads said of the defendants. “We just want to thank the police.”
“Never ever did I think this day would come,” said Sanders, Houston’s twin sister. “Hopefully, justice will be served.”