And they say it's not the first time.
The MiamiBoys - a loosely knit gang that recruits some members in Florida to sell drugs here - have been linked by police to other slayings, although there have been no convictions.
Since the spring of 1986, the Miami Boys have been embroiled in a drug war with local dealers. And despite numerous arrests, police say, the gang has become a dominant factor in dope dealing in the city, controlling most of the drug sales in the city's housing projects.
Lt. John Woodard of the Atlanta narcotics squad said the Miami Boys have taken over drug sales in Techwood Homes, John Hope Homes and Eagan Homes, establishing themselves as barons of the local drug trade. Because the Miami Boys have connections in south Florida, they are able to provide a higher quality of cocaine at lower prices than their landlocked counterparts.
"If that didn't work, they used force," Woodard said.
One of the alleged leaders of the Miami Boys , Winston Theodore Brown, 25, is on trial in Fulton County Superior Court this week on a murder charge in the shooting of a competitor last March during an argument over control of the Techwood Homes drug trade.
Anthony Johnson, 20, of Hollywood, Fla., was shot eight times March 18 and died at the scene. A bystander, Vincent Rainwater, 29, was caught in the crossfire, shot in the back and lost the use of his legs.
Assistant District Attorney John Turner said there has been testimony in the trial that lawmen are aware that the MiamiBoys sometimes carry the Israeli military's Uzi, which is a submachine gun, and there have been reports that they even have grenades.
"These boys are for real," said a law enforcement officer involved in the trial. He pointed to his own sidearm and said, "We're going to have to have something that shoots harder and faster than this to deal with them."
Police also believe members of the MiamiBoys were responsible for another Techwood Homes crime five months earlier. They said unidentified gang members kidnapped Ronald Baker, 22, from a street corner in Techwood Homes in October 1986, shot him several times in the head and dumped his body along a Gwinnett County road.
Last week's case involved the shooting death of Emma Lois Johnson, 60, who was hit by a stray bullet Sept. 9 during a gun battle between the MiamiBoys and a local gang called the Terry White Boys over control of dope sales at two public housing projects. Testimony in the trial indicated that Wanderyl Demarcus McGhee, 20, was a member of the Terry White Boys and Roberto Kasmos Nelson, 29, of Miami a member of the Miami Boys.
According to police, some members of the Miami Boys are recruited off the street in south Florida, given money, guns, drugs and a plane or bus ticket to Atlanta. In some cases, police say, their lodging is paid for once they arrive here.
"A lot of law enforcementpressure is being put on in south Florida," said police Maj. Julius Derrico, commander of the special investigations section. "There are quite a few people up here from Miami . They feel they can operate more freely here. We've had numerous cases where 17-or 18-year-olds were arrested with airline tickets still in their pockets."
Woodard estimates the gang is composed of between 20 and 30 members, which is about triple the estimated "nine or 10" members thought to be here just two years ago. "It's a loose-knit group, but there's somebody that organizes it," he said. "The Miami Boys have control of most of the dealing at the housing projects."
At one housing project, members of the gang had day and night shifts that sold drugs at a so-called "stop-and-cop" located in the apartment parking lot. "They wouldn't let you walk through if you weren't buying drugs," Woodard said. "When they took it over, they took it over."
According to Woodard, most gang members carry Uzis; Ingram MAC-10s, another type of submachine gun; or a Florida-made 9mm machine pistol. "Most of them are semiautomatic, but that's still more than what we've got," Woodard said. "If we don't catch them by surprise, we don't have enough firepower. If we ever get in a real firefight . . . ."
According to police Lt. LaSalle Smith, the commander of the police intelligence section who headed a police task force on youth gangs in Atlanta in the summer of 1986, youth gang activity peaked that year.
"We had identified up to 14," Smith said. "Some of them just fell apart. We figure there are about five now."