In his role as new commander, Hennessy strengthened training for new detectives. He created a system of "geographic assignments" under which the same detectives handle every homicide in a particular district, thus developing a familiarity with the neighborhood. The homicide squad's clearance rate rose. In September 1995, the U.S. Justice Department called the D.C. homicide squad a "model" unit. But making a name for himself gained Hennessy some enemies.
One of them, Bennie Lee Lawson, a suspect in a triple homicide, walked into the third floor of the D.C. police headquarters in November 1994 and opened fire, killing three law enforcement officers. Lawson died in the incident.
W. Louis Hennessy is the newest judge on the District Court for Charles County. He has led the D.C. police homicide squad, been a criminal defense lawyer and served in the House of Delegates.
(Rafael Crisostomo For The Washington Post)
Apparently, Lawson was looking for Hennessy, who was described in handwritten notes seized from Lawson's home as "wanted dead." Lawson was steps away from Hennessy's office. But the door was closed; Hennessy was on leave.
"Immediately after it happened, I thought about retiring from the department," Hennessy said. "But then I thought, 'What type of example would I be setting for the rest of squad that the first time someone tried to kill me, I was going to quit?' I wanted to show them that I was with them and that I wasn't going to allow someone to run me out of town."
In 1995, a change in the leadership of the department altered Hennessy's standing. When Larry D. Soulsby took over as police chief, he removed Hennessy from leadership of the homicide division.
The transfer led to a highly publicized dispute between Soulsby and Hennessy over the reasons for the move, something that has never been clarified despite years of acrimonious charges, a lawsuit and a report by CBS's "60 Minutes."
Hennessy said he gradually understood that his career had come to a halt.
"I didn't realize it at the time, but within a few months, it occurred to me that I would never be promoted beyond the rank of captain," Hennessy said. "I knew that the way D.C. politics worked, I would never be promoted because I didn't want to kiss anyone's backside."
Before leaving the police department in February 1998, Hennessy graduated from the University of Maryland's law school and went into practice handling criminal defense and personal injury cases with offices in La Plata and Washington.
In the November 2002 general election, Hennessy, a Republican, lost his bid to unseat Charles County State's Attorney Leonard C. Collins Jr. (D).
"We had different ideas, and he won, and I accept that," Hennessy said.
In February 2003, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) appointed Hennessy to fill the House of Delegates seat left vacant when Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins was named director of veterans affairs in the governor's Cabinet.
The appointment generated controversy within Republican ranks. Hutchins favored Charles County Commissioner W. Daniel Mayer to fill the seat. At the time, Hutchins criticized Hennessy after the Charles County Republican Central Committee recommended him to Ehrlich, saying there were "more qualified people." Later, the two men shook hands at a news conference and attributed their spat to "politics." Hutchins, who like Hennessy is a former law enforcement officer, has since gone on to become superintendent of the Maryland State Police.
After two legislative sessions, a new possibility presented itself: a vacancy on the Charles County District Court. Hennessy applied for the post and narrowly avoided defeat.