A lawyer with the District’s Public Defender Service has petitioned a D.C. Superior Court judge to order D.C. police to search a Virginia landfill for the remains of slain teenager Latisha M. Frazier, after authorities told Frazier’s parents that such a search would be too risky and costly and could yield little.
In an 18-page filing before Judge William Jackson, lawyer Eugene Ohm requested a hearing to argue his petition, saying that his client’s defense is “significantly weakened” because Ohm and his staff were unable to inspect Frazier’s body. Ohm represents Brian Gaither, 23, one of the six people charged in the 18-year-old’s slaying.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier had recently told Frazier’s family that the teenager was probably buried under tons of trash and dirt in a landfill near Richmond. Authorities would not authorize a search because it would cost more than $1 million and could jeopardize the safety of the recovery officers. Lanier said that such a search could take as much as six months and that there was no guarantee that Frazier’s remains would be found.
In his March 15 filing, Ohm wrote that D.C. police are “encumbered with the duty of recovering the bodies of any decedent and overseeing the delivery of the body to the office of the chief medical examiner.”
Ohm said the burden is on the government to prove that Frazier was dead and that she was killed, in addition to the manner in which she was killed. “The body is the best evidence of the defendant’s criminal intent,” Ohm wrote.
Ohm wrote that officers in other jurisdictions have searched landfills for missing bodies, citing 20 cases dating to 1999 of searches in Florida, California and New York. Ohm criticized D.C. police for not giving Frazier’s case the amount of attention given to the search for former federal intern Chandra Levy, who disappeared in May 2001. Levy’s remains were found a year later in Rock Creek Park by a Dupont Circle resident walking his dog.
In the Frazier case, six defendants — three males and three females ranging in age from 16 to 23 — were charged as adults with various counts in connection with Frazier’s death, including first- and second-degree murder and kidnapping.
Prosecutors have based their case primarily on the accounts that the six have given detectives. They said they invited Frazier to a Southeast Washington apartment Aug. 2 and beat her, placed her in a closet and covered her with a sheet. After Frazier died, several of the defendants tried to dismember her, then dumped her body in a trash bin behind the apartment building in the 1700 block of Trenton Place SE.
Even for prosecutors, not having a body can make trying a case challenging, and D.C. prosecutors have had just three “no-body” cases go to trial in at least 30 years. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office said that it would submit a written response to Ohm’s request but declined to comment further.
The attack was allegedly orchestrated by a 17-year-old who told his friends that Frazier had stolen money from him, according to court documents.
Frazier’s family reported her missing Aug. 4 and canvassed her Southeast Washington neighborhood. The disappearance remained a mystery until January, when Gaither was arrested.
Jackson had not ruled on Ohm’s request. The next hearing is scheduled for June 10.