Man charged in Va. activist Lenny Harris’s death

January 30, 2012

Prince George’s County homicide detectives charged an Oxon Hill man Tuesday in the slaying of Alexandria activist Lenny Harris — taking an important step, they hope, toward unraveling the mystery that began when Harris suddenly vanished in September only to turn up dead at the bottom of a well in Fort Washington last week.

Linwood Johnson, 49, was charged with first-degree murder and is being held in the Prince George’s County jail, authorities said. Assistant Police Chief Kevin Davis said that Johnson and Harris “were known to each other” and that Johnson did not act alone. Detectives think that Harris’s attackers set out to rob him, Davis said.

Beyond that, police said little. Davis said that detectives expect to make more arrests soon, and he did not specify Johnson’s alleged role in the crime or his connection to Harris. He said Harris was shot at the long-vacant, secluded property where his body was found in a well Thursday, but he offered nothing in the way of a timeline of events from Sept. 21, when Harris went missing.

The arrest marks a significant break in a difficult case that has vexed investigators in two states for months. Harris had been a longtime fixture at Alexandria community meetings and city recreation centers and was well known in the community.

“Our work is far from done,” Davis said. “We’re certainly hopeful. Our leads are very, very strong.”


Lenwood "Lenny" Harris (Courtesy of Jason Felder)

The night of Sept. 21, Harris met with a friend at the Charles Houston Recreation Center in Alexandria. He never made it home to his wife.

Long before his body was recovered, detectives suspected foul play. A tattooed man was recorded by an ATM surveillance camera as he used Harris’s bank card hours after Harris disappeared, and police found Harris’s cellphone on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Police distributed the photos of the tattooed man, hoping for a clue that would lead to Harris, but weeks, and months, passed.

Then, last week, an anonymous caller dialed 911 and directed police to a well in the 11900 block of Old Fort Road in Fort Washington. Detectives are still trying to identify the caller. The property had been vacant since 1996, leading investigators to believe that whoever put the body in the well knew the area.

On Saturday, after a days-long excavation process, Harris’s remains were pulled above ground and sent to Baltimore for an autopsy. A medical examiner determined that he had been shot.

Harris, who lived with his wife in Del Ray, was known in Alexandria for speaking out for the underprivileged. He made an unsuccessful run for the council in 2007 and was co-founder of the nonprofit group Operation Hope, which offers mentoring and career-development services. He also ran a pest-control business. After his disappearance, hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil.

Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille (D), who knew Harris for more than 30 years, said he was relieved that police had made an arrest in the killing.


Alexandria Police are asking for the public’s help in identifying a person of interest in the missing person case of Lenwood “Lenny” Harris. The person of interest used the victim’s credit card on King Street shortly after 1 a.m on Sept. 22. (Courtesy of Alexandria Police)

“He was a very dedicated, concerned individual who was a great mentor for our youth and young adults,” Euille said. “He was a strong advocate for the folks who are less-fortunate. He will be missed, and hopefully his legacy will be carried on by others.”

Davis, the assistant police chief, said Tuesday that Alexandria detectives had put together a strong case before Prince George’s homicide investigators became involved, and that work helped lead police to Johnson. He said that Johnson provided a “full written and verbal confession” to his involvement in the slaying and that detectives had recovered the gun they believe was used to shoot Harris.

Online court records show that Johnson was convicted in a 1988 robbery case. In recent years, the records show, he has been charged with mostly minor offenses — some of which have been dropped. In Prince George’s, he is currently charged with selling counterfeit DVDs outside a Temple Hills gas station. He told officers that he was selling the DVDs, for $5 each, to “try and make a little money,” according to police charging documents.

Efforts to reach Johnson’s and Harris’s family members were unsuccessful.

Staff writers Rachel Karas, Allison Klein and Justin Jouvenal and staff researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

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Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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