Opening arguments made in Jason Scott murder trial
By Matt Zapotosky,
Hours before he allegedly killed a Largo woman and her 20-year-old daughter, Jason T. Scott broke into another home with a woman inside. As he was preparing to leave, he turned to an accomplice and said, “Let’s take her with us.” The accomplice told him no.
After that encounter in March 2009, detailed by prosecutors in court Tuesday, the accomplice dropped Scott off near the home of Delores Dewitt, 42, and her daughter, Ebony, 20. Detectives believe that Scott went inside, strangled the two women and sometime later set a stolen car on fire with their bodies inside.
Police have said the killings were among at least five attributed to Scott as he terrorized the Largo neighborhood where he grew up — first as a burglar, then as a killer targeting mothers and daughters. His trial on two first-degree murder charges in the Dewitt case — the only slayings for which he is charged — began Tuesday in Prince George’s County Circuit Court.
Police and prosecutors have long painted Scott, 29, as a cunning serial killer and home invader. He was sentenced last year to a century in prison in a separate, federal case in which he was convicted of orchestrating home invasion robberies, molesting a teenage girl and burglarizing a Maryland gun shop.
He also is suspected — although not charged — in the Jan. 16, 2009, slayings of Karen Lofton, 45, and her daughter, Karissa, 16, in Largo, and in the June 2008 killing of 46-year-old Vilma Butler in Bowie, police have said.
On Tuesday, prosecutors laid out their case against Scott in the Dewitt killings. Scott, they said, broke into homes throughout Largo, often searching for his victims using a computer database at UPS, where he worked.
They hinted that he meticulously covered his tracks. In the Dewitt house, for example, detectives found evidence of bleach stains.
That much, though, is hardly new; even Scott’s defense attorney acknowledged that his client committed other break-ins. But Scott never admitted to a killing, and prosecutors’ evidence connecting him to the Dewitt killings is largely circumstantial, they said.
Assistant State’s Attorney Christine Murphy told jurors that investigators found charred remnants of Delores Dewitt’s 7 brand jeans and Ebony Dewitt’s gray sweater at an Upper Marlboro home Scott used as a stash house for loot from burglaries. On Delores Dewitt’s charred remains, according to prosecutors and witnesses, investigators found a beech tree leaf that also seemed to come from that residence.
Though no eyewitness would connect Scott to the slayings, Murphy said, other evidence “together forms a neon arrow pointing at the defendant.”
Harry Trainor, Scott’s defense attorney, urged jurors not to delve too deeply into the other crimes.
He said that while Scott might have broken into homes in Largo, there was “no direct evidence” linking him to the killings.
“It would be easy for someone to make that jump, an improper jump, that because of all this other stuff, he must be a person of bad character,” Trainor said.
Testimony on Tuesday largely recounted the circumstances under which police found the Dewitts’ bodies in a stolen car that had been set on fire. Prosecutors played a recording of a 911 call that the car’s owner made after she returned to her home early March 16, 2009, to find her Nissan Maxima missing from the carport.
Sybil Felton’s home had been burglarized only a few weeks earlier, and as she waited on the phone with a dispatcher, wondering whether an intruder was again inside her home, she saw her Nissan drive by.
“That’s my car,” Felton told the dispatcher. “Okay, it just zoomed past me.”
Police found the Nissan minutes later, on fire in a nearby driveway. Prosecutors said Scott most likely took Felton’s spare key in the earlier break-in and then used her car to dispose of the bodies. Trainor disputed that, noting that the key was the only item taken during the break-in, apparently removed from a kitchen drawer. He said Scott would not have known where to find the key, and it was more likely taken by someone who Felton knew.
Also Wednesday, a medical examiner testified that both women died of asphyxia before the fire, and bruises on their necks indicated they were probably strangled. Testimony is set to resume Wednesday, and the trial is expected to last several weeks.