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An Ordinary Murder

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Detective John Muzek reenacting the test-fire of the murder weapon at the NYPD crime lab.  

As the seven Brooklyn men are being interviewed, photographed, and fingerprinted at the ATF office, one of them says he has some information to share about “Darryl Chestnut,” the guy who’s claiming that he’s never been arrested before. He says that Chestnut is really Joseph Truman, the suspect wanted in the shooting of Clifford Birkbeck. Oh, and one more thing, says the informant: He knows where the gun is, too.

The homicide detectives pick up Truman from the ATF and bring him back to the 75th Precinct. He is read his Miranda rights and agrees to answer questions. During a 45-minute interview, he gives an oral statement that is transcribed by a detective. Truman initials each line and signs each page. He also gives a videotaped statement. He admits to having a .22 revolver and to shooting Birkbeck with it. He says that a couple of days after the murder, he “got rid of the gun to a guy named T.” Tameika is at her son’s grandfather’s funeral when she gets a breathless call from Crystal telling her to go to the precinct house. She easily picks out Truman in a lineup. After she makes the identification, the cops again tell her to stay away from home to be safe. Now they have the bullets, the eyewitness, the suspect, and the confession—the last piece of the case is the gun.

January 27, 2006
Joint Firearms Task Force, Sunset Park, Brooklyn

With Truman in police custody, the JFTF turns its attention to finding T and the murder weapon. The informant who tipped off the investigators—let’s call him Snitch—tells the task force that he knows about the murder and the gun because he’s a friend of Truman’s and heard him bragging about it. He says that the gun is a .22 revolver and adds that he also knows T. He’s coughed up a lot of dirt now, and he might think he’s earned enough good-­citizenship points to lighten the five-year federal sentence he’s looking at. But since he’s the one who knows the guy who’s got the gun, guess what? He’s the one who’s going to get wired and sent in to make the buy.

“It makes my stress level go down a little bit,” says Lieutenant Mike Rogers. A compact, light-­skinned black dude with a fade, ­double-pierced ears, and the Van Dyke that is the new-school version of the classic cop mustache, Rogers looks a little like the rapper Ghostface Killah, but he’s the commander of the NYPD officers on the JFTF. “I have less of a heartache knowing it’s a guy who deals with this guy anyway—and was probably in his house yesterday. Should be no problem with him coming in now.” But Snitch doesn’t just go off on his own. He will make the buy under the surveillance of the JFTF.

The JFTF team looks as though it’s been staffed by central casting, with detectives and agents who are black, Latino, Italian—and Special Agent Renee Repasky in the Jodie Foster role. Repasky, who will supervise Snitch, is a five-foot-one, 27-year-old strawberry blonde from New Jersey who is prone to blushing and looks like she probably still gets carded. On undercover operations, she’s on the cover team that monitors the detectives and agents wearing wires—and moves in with shotguns, submachine guns, and assault rifles if things go south. The cover team also makes the arrests during a bust. “People are shocked to find out what I do for a living,” she says. But she has no trouble getting the proper respect from criminals. “Nobody really says anything,” she says. “But then again, who is going to say something to me when I have a gun in my hand?”

Repasky works with Snitch on his story about why he wants to get his hands on the revolver. Then he calls T as she listens in. T tells Snitch that he handed off the hot handgun to yet another guy. Repasky coaches Snitch: He can’t seem too interested, and he can’t call too often, but they have to move faster than the news out on the street that he’s been arrested. Seven days after the buy-and-bust, Repasky and Snitch have a date to buy the gun that killed Clifford Birkbeck for $300.

February 2, 2006
Joint Firearms Task Force, East New York, Brooklyn

On the day of an operation, a tactical plan, complete with printouts from MapQuest, goes around to everyone at the JFTF. At the appointed hour, usually in the evening, the team members drive over in separate cars to “tac up” at an out-of-the-way location, like a parking lot or a cemetery. The group members, all in street clothes, gather in a circle to review the plan with flashlights and discuss the particulars of “the set” where the buy will take place, which codes will be used if the situation goes bad, and whose car is the designated ambulance in case of emergency. As the time draws near for contact to be made with the seller, even on a buy that seems unlikely to cause the team any trouble, you can feel the tension. A few guys light cigars, and expletives rise overhead, mingling with the smoke, as they get into street mode. Bulletproof vests are Velcroed on by everyone except the undercovers. “When you say, ‘Let’s go,’ you still get butterflies,” says Sergeant Charles Giglio, an Irish-­Italian father of three who serves with Repasky on the JFTF cover team. “You can’t get complacent—‘It’s just another buy’—you never know.”


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