Office of the State's Attorney for Baltimore City

For imprisoning a man, extorting ransom money for him, and ultimately killing their victim, Darryl Nichols and Donta Vaughn were convicted yesterday. Scheduled for sentencing on March 10, 2014, both defendants face maximum sentences of life in prison.

Five years ago, on February 1, 2009, the Baltimore City Police Department received information that an individual named Eric Pendergrass had been kidnapped and was being held for ransom. Eight days later, Pendergrass’s body was discovered in the Patapsco River not far from Cherry Hill Park. The medical examiner determined the manner and cause of death to be homicide by asphyxiation.

The investigation, led by Detective Brian Lewis, revealed that three people — Sherrell Ferguson, Darryl Nichols, and Donta Vaughn — conspired to kidnap Pendergrass, demand ransom money for him, and murder him. Ferguson lured Pendergrass to the home of Vaughn, Ferguson’s boyfriend. They held Pendergrass captive in Vaughn’s apartment while Ferguson picked up ransom on two separate days.

The jury convicted Nichols, 38, and Vaughn, 37, of felony murder, conspiracy to commit false imprisonment, false imprisonment, conspiracy to commit extortion, and extortion.

Having pled guilty to first-degree murder, Ferguson, 32, is scheduled for sentencing on February 5, 2014. She, too, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

“I want to thank and commend Detective Lewis and our prosecutor, Tonya LaPolla, for their exemplary work and their unrelenting persistence to see this tragic case through to convictions for all involved,” State’s Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein said.