IN A CITY where justice frequently is thwarted by a no-snitching culture, Rodney Ramseur did what others are too scared or too heartless to do: He spoke up and told what he allegedly saw, fingering a former friend at a court hearing last week as the gunman who shot a neighbor in 2010.
But Monday night, someone gunned down Ramseur and his girlfriend as they sat in a springtime drizzle on the porch of his Olney home. Now, police are probing whether a retaliation-minded murderer targeted Ramseur for his role in helping authorities prosecute the neighbor's slaying.
"He was only outside 10 minutes. Somebody had to be waiting for him," his stepfather, Christopher Hyman, 44, said Tuesday morning, as friends and relatives gathered to grieve at the family's home at 3rd and Sparks streets.
Hyman was inside watching basketball on TV when he heard the explosion of gunfire outside just before 8:30 p.m. Monday. He ran outside to discover Ramseur and girlfriend Latia Jones, both 21, shot multiple times in the head and chest. After the ambush, Ramseur jumped the iron fence encircling the family's patio and staggered down Sparks Street, where he collapsed in the street and paramedics later declared him dead.
"He's a hero. He could have easily run in the house [when he saw the gunman], but he chose to protect his family and run away from us," his sister Alyssa Ramseur said.
Besides Hyman, Ramseur's mother, pregnant sister and 3-year-old brother were in the house at the time, Hyman said.
Jones, who lived a block away on 4th Street near Rosemar, died at Albert Einstein Medical Center about an hour after the shooting.
The gunman is described as a young black man in a gray hoodie and dark blue jeans who was last seen running north on 3rd Street toward Godfrey Avenue. Police also are seeking an older-model gray Ford Taurus with a black hood that may have been connected to the double murder.
Homicide Sgt. Bob Wilkins said investigators are looking at several possible motives, including Ramseur's role in the May 3, 2010, shooting of Savoeun Ning about two blocks away on Spencer Street near 2nd.
In that case, court records say, Ning was outside during a block party about 1 a.m. when a man sprang out of a black car and began shooting down Spencer Street. It was unclear from court records who the target was, but Ning was shot in the back. After a lengthy stay in the hospital and in a rehabilitation center, Ning went home — but he returned to the hospital in March 2011 and died there on April 8, 2011.
Two witnesses ID'd the shooter as Garland "G-man" Doughty, 21. Both knew Doughty, who lived on that block, for years and picked him from police photos as the gunman. He remains jailed without bail at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility on murder and related charges. Ramseur testified as a witness during Doughty's preliminary hearing May 8, Wilkins said.
Homicide Capt. James Clark said Ramseur "was very well-known to police." Neighbors said the area is a hotbed of drug activity.
Crime witnesses can get protection through a witness-relocation program offered through the District Attorney's Office. Spokeswoman Tasha Jamerson wouldn't comment on whether Ramseur asked to be placed in the program, or whether the other witness to Ning's shooting will now be relocated.
"Any witness in any case in the city who feels threatened would be offered services by both our office and the Police Department," she said. "We would never turn anyone away who asks for help, and that is not just in homicide cases, it is in any case. That is all I can say."
Clark urged tipsters to call police at 215-686-3334. The city is offering a $40,000 reward for information that leads to the capture and conviction of the killer. n