Jury finds two guilty in death of teen believed to be first victim of Tacoma gang violence

Decades after his death, there is finally a conviction in the case of the teenager believed to be the first victim of a gang killing in Tacoma.

A jury last week found Anthony Eugene Ralls, 45, and Nathaniel Miles, 49, guilty of first-degree murder in the Aug. 28, 1988, slaying of Bernard Houston. Miles also was found guilty of tampering with a witness.

The two men will be sentenced Aug. 29 along with three co-defendants – Brian Clement Allen, 47; Terris Miller, 43; and Darrell Lee, 46 – who earlier took plea deals that required them to testify for the state.

Houston, who was 17 at the time of his death, was gunned down on a Hilltop street corner in what Pierce County prosecutors call a retaliation drive-by shooting.

Houston and a friend were said to have shot at Allen and Ralls, who were rival gang members, earlier in the day. Two cars full of men then went looking for Houston and found him hanging out in a car near South 23rd Street and Sheridan Avenue.

Houston was shot in the head after getting out of the Jeep. His friend was shot in the leg as he tried to run away. Two women with them were not injured.

Deputy prosecutor Jesse Williams, who prosecuted the case with his colleague Greg Greer, said during the trial that Houston fired a single shot after the other group opened fire on him.

Houston was found lying in the street with a revolver in his hand.

Defense attorneys argued that Houston was prepared for a shootout and was the aggressor in the firefight, calling the rival gang members derogatory names.

The shooting happened at a time when Tacoma was seeing an influx of California gang members bringing crack cocaine into the area. The drug sales sparked violence as gangs tussled over turf.

Although drive-by shootings were becoming commonplace, Houston is believed to be the first modern fatality due to gang violence in both Tacoma and Pierce County.

Detectives worked the case over the years but were never able to prove who was involved in the shooting. The defendants were arrested and charged last year after police were able to get Allen, Ralls, Miles, Miller and Lee to all admit they’d been present when Houston was shot to death.