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Pr. George's Settles Suits by 3 Detainees

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 9, 2004; Page B04

Prince George's County has quietly settled lawsuits filed by three Arizona women who were charged with murder by county police last year and jailed for three weeks before officials determined that they were innocent.

As part of the settlements, which were reached in July, the women and their attorneys agreed not to disclose how much money they received, according to court records and the lawyer for one of the women. Neither side publicly announced the settlements.

_____Special Reports_____
A Blue Wall of Silence: Pr. George's police have shot and killed people at rates that exceed those of nearly any other large force in the nation.
False Confessions: Documents and interviews reveal that Pr. George's homicide detectives extracted false confessions from four men.

The settlements resolve a lawsuit filed by Virginia Shelton, 48, and her daughter Shirley Shelton, 18, and a lawsuit filed by Jennifer Starkey, 19, a friend of Shirley Shelton's.

Starkey did not return a phone message seeking a comment on the case. The Sheltons' home phone number in Arizona is unlisted.

Victor E. Long, Starkey's attorney, said he could not discuss the settlement. "We would naturally prefer it be made public," he said. The Sheltons' attorney, Terrell N. Roberts III, also said he could not comment.

Prince George's homicide detectives arrested the Sheltons and Starkey in Arizona in April 2003. They were charged with killing Denise Mansfield, 45, who was strangled in her Mitchellville home in June 2002.

Police focused on the Arizona residents after the Fox TV show "America's Most Wanted" aired a segment on the Mansfield slaying in March 2003, when it was still unsolved. The show aired photographs from a bank security camera showing the Sheltons and Starkey using an automated teller machine at a SunTrust bank branch near Mansfield's home a few hours after the killing. An acquaintance of the Sheltons called a tip line and identified them.

Bank records showed that someone used Mansfield's debit card to withdraw $200 from the ATM about the same time that the Sheltons and Starkey used the machine.

But detectives did not realize that the times on the bank transaction records and the bank's video surveillance camera were not synchronized. Officials eventually determined that Virginia Shelton and the teenagers, who were visiting a relative in Washington, used their debit cards minutes before Mansfield's card was used by someone else.

County police interrogated the Sheltons and Starkey for several hours in Arizona before charging them. Detectives alleged in charging documents that the three admitted using Mansfield's debit card.

In interviews, the Sheltons and Starkey said they acknowledged to police that they had used the ATM but insisted to detectives that they did not steal anyone's card and knew nothing about a homicide. In June 2002, Virginia Shelton had driven to the Washington area to help her ailing mother, and her daughter and Starkey had come along.

Virginia Shelton and Starkey were flown to Prince George's and spent three weeks in the county jail. Shirley Shelton was detained for three weeks in an Arizona juvenile detention facility.

Charges were dropped and the three were released when a prosecutor realized that the times on the bank records and the video camera were not synchronized.

In January 2003, County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) said he believed the public had a right to know the amount of taxpayer money being spent on settlements and jury awards in police misconduct lawsuits.

Jim Keary, a Johnson spokesman, said the amounts of the settlements arising from the Mansfield case will be included in a cumulative total that will be released in January.


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