On Feb. 10, 2001, Tremayne Graham cruised in a limousine through Washington accompanied by an entourage of friends and fellow drug dealers: men with street names like X-Man, Soup and Playboy.
It was the weekend of the NBA All-Star Game in Washington, and the streets were clogged. Around 1 a.m., two men leaving a strip club walked in front of Graham's car. They argued with the driver, and Graham and his crew poured into the street.
When police arrived, three men lay wounded on the sidewalk. One died shortly at a hospital.
Graham ran away from the scene, blood spattered on his necktie, a witness recalled. He still attended a party and later in the day, as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred, he completed a planned rendezvous with his fiancée: Kai Franklin, whose mother then was running for mayor of Atlanta.
Six years later, the Washington crime remains unsolved. But prosecutors now say that shooting turned out to be an impromptu audition for another unsolved homicide, this one in Atlanta.
Federal authorities recently alleged in court papers that, when Graham wanted to kill a potential witness against him in a federal drug case, he engaged the shooter from the Washington killing. They say that man and another burst into a Virginia-Highland townhouse on Sept. 5, 2004, and executed Graham's co-defendant, Ulysses Hackett III, 34, and Hackett's 24-year-old girlfriend, Misty Denise Carter, while they slept. Two months later, Graham removed an electronic ankle bracelet that monitored his movements and fled to California, where he was arrested in June 2005.
Events surrounding the Washington killing and the double homicide in Atlanta — now under investigation by federal authorities — provide insight into a transcontinental cocaine ring whose leader reportedly once boasted of taking refuge in the home of his mother-in-law, Mayor Shirley Franklin.
The mayor has repeatedly declined to comment on whether Graham moved into her house after Hackett and Carter were killed. Graham was married to the mayor's older daughter from December 2001 to May 2005.
Graham, 33, pleaded guilty to federal charges that involved moving more than a ton of cocaine from Los Angeles to Atlanta and Greenville, S.C. Graham's lawyer did not respond to a request for an interview.
During questioning by federal agents, however, Graham denied that he was present at the scene of the Washington shooting, according to court records. In a lie detector test, he also denied any involvement in the Atlanta killings, but agents said the results of the examination were inconclusive.
Federal authorities said during Graham's sentencing hearing they are investigating whether Kai Franklin helped launder the profits from drug trafficking. An assistant U.S. attorney, Mark Moore, said in court that Graham lied about his wife's involvement, possibly because "she may have very critical information about where he was and what he did on the night that Ulysses Hackett was killed."
In April, a judge sentenced Graham to life in prison, calling him a major player in one of the largest drug conspiracies in the Southeast.
Prosecutors had sought the maximum sentence because of Graham's alleged role in the killings of Hackett and Carter.
An investigation by the Atlanta police never led to an arrest. Federal authorities recently took over the case, which now seems to have begun more than three years earlier, on a cold night in Washington.
Two brands of power
When Tremayne Graham met Kai Franklin in an Atlanta strip club, he already was well established in the cocaine trade.
She came from a different background: Atlanta's power structure. Her mother had been an aide to two mayors and had managed the redevelopment of the East Lake Golf Club before running for mayor herself. Her father, David Franklin, was an entertainment agent and a vendor at the Atlanta airport.
At least partly as a front for his drug business, Graham ran a luxury automobile dealership on Cheshire Bridge Road. His business partner, Scott King, had served three years in prison in California for drug trafficking and was dating Kai Franklin's sister, Kali.
Graham and King, sometimes with the Franklin sisters, traveled in style, flying to other cities but hiring an Atlanta limousine company called A Cut Above to send a car to drive them around when they arrived.
" We always tried to have the limo from Atlanta come because we could get away with more things with the limo driver from our hometown," King testified in Graham's sentencing hearing in April.
The driver — nicknamed "Limo Dave" — would let Graham and King's group smoke marijuana and carry guns in the car, King said.
" Limo Dave" actually is Dave Thompson, owner of A Cut Above. In a brief telephone interview, he denied giving Graham and King's group permission to carry drugs or weapons in his car.
" I don't know nothing about nothing about that, whatsoever," Thompson said. "Any limousine company — you rent the limo and you could do whatever you want to do. We don't ask them if they have drugs or guns or anything."
As seven passengers rode to a party in Washington during the NBA All-Star weekend in 2001, King testified, they smoked marijuana in the limousine. Two of the group carried guns, he said. One of them was a suspected drug dealer named Jamad Ali, known by his street name, Soup.
In the DuPont Circle neighborhood, two men leaving a strip club stepped in front of the car. They argued with the driver, using racial slurs. A bodyguard for one of the passengers in Graham's car got out "to see if he could defuse the situation," King testified.
Then, he said, "it came to an altercation, and everybody piled out of the limo and one of the guys ... broke a bottle. So it was like he had a weapon or something. And then Soup just proceeded to start shooting."
Ali shot both of the men leaving the strip club, King said, as well as the bodyguard from the limousine. One of the men, 25-year-old Raul Rosales of Silver Spring, Md., who was shot in the mouth, died at a Washington hospital.
King said he and Graham ran away to avoid the police. On a nearby street, King said, "we jumped in a cab and went to a party." Later in the day, as planned, he said, Kai and Kali Franklin joined them at a Washington hotel.
In the cab after the shooting, King said, he noticed something awry.
" I told Tremayne that he had blood on his tie," King said. "So he took his tie off and threw it away."
'Take care' meant 'kill'
The Washington police arrested a passenger in the limousine, Michael Antonio Harris — "Playboy" to his friends — and charged him with murder. Prosecutors later dropped the charges against Harris, of Lithonia. No one else has ever been arrested, according to Washington police and prosecutors.
Ten months after the shooting, in December 2001, Graham married Kai Franklin, a few days before her mother was sworn in as mayor. The couple bought a large house in a Cobb County subdivision. And Graham, prosecutors said, continued to ship Mexican cocaine into Atlanta and Greenville.
In April 2004, though, a federal grand jury in South Carolina indicted Graham on drug-trafficking charges, as part of a case that targeted a dealer that authorities describe as the largest cocaine supplier in South Carolina. One of Graham's co-defendants was a former pharmaceutical sales representative named Ulysses Hackett, who had become a courier for the drug ring.
Hackett — nicknamed "Hack" and "Stupid" by leaders of the drug gang — worried Graham, according to King's testimony. Graham had sent Hackett on the drug run that led to his arrest. So any information Hackett might have given the authorities could have been especially damaging for Graham.
"Tremayne told me that he felt that Hack was cooperating and that we might need to take care of him," King testified.
Asked by a prosecutor what Graham meant, King said, "Kill him."
King said he refused to help Graham, "so he said he would find somebody else to do it."
Graham got a gun from another drug dealer, King testified, and passed it to yet another dealer, who arranged for Ali to carry out the killings of Hackett and his girlfriend, Carter.
Federal prosecutors later contended that when agents interrogated Graham about the Washington shooting, he lied to protect Ali and, therefore, himself.
A Drug Enforcement Administration agent, Jay Rajaee, testified in Graham's sentencing hearing in April that a witness identified Ali as one of two men leaving Carter's townhouse. And Wayne Wright, an Internal Revenue Service agent, said in court that Ali was the "suspected shooter."
Federal agents arrested Ali in 2005 in New Jersey on a warrant for drug charges he faced in Jacksonville. He later pleaded guilty to a weapons charge in New Jersey; a federal judge sentenced him to almost seven years in prison. The Florida charges are pending.
Ali's lawyer, Rick Jancha of Orlando, declined to comment.
King testified he was in California when Hackett and Carter were killed. A few hours after the shootings, he said, Graham called from Atlanta.
" 'Stupid' and the girl," King said Graham told him, "are gone."