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For Homicide Investigators, The Streets Yield Few Allies

Patterson spoke to the third witness, who appeared to have the most potential. The man said he saw a gunman approach a group of men standing under an awning of a boarded-up barbershop to avoid the rain. The man fired two shots and rode off in a Ford Explorer, he said. He described the man as older, 5 feet 7, 140 pounds and balding. Although he said he did not know the assailant, he offered to help Patterson find other witnesses.

Grateful for the help, Patterson had some immediate worries -- his witness exhibited signs of being a heroin addict and alcoholic. The witness was extremely thin, lived on the streets and wore tattered, filthy clothing. His hands were swollen, a sign of circulation problems tied to heroin abuse.

D.C. homicide detective Tony Patterson, left, investigates the scene at Rhode Island Avenue and Fourth Street NE, where Larry Baskin was killed in a downpour on the Fourth of July. (Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)

After getting the man's account, Patterson put out an alert for a Ford Explorer. He got into his unmarked cruiser and drove to the crime scene, a busy area near a firehouse, convenience store, pizza shop and large mall. But not many people were out, driven indoors by the rain.

Patterson thought about the weather and what it meant. The killer must have been determined to target Larry Baskin, Patterson figured, because he had to walk several hundred feet in a deluge before firing the two shots at close range.

A predator murder.

The victim was identified with the help of prison documents found in his pants pocket. It turned out that Baskin had been released from prison only a day earlier after serving six months for violating probation in a drug distribution case.

Baskin had previous convictions for armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. In the latter case, he shot a man in the thigh in January 1998 because the man tried to evict him. Baskin had been living in the man's basement.

It took Patterson about four hours to locate Baskin's sister, DeLyssia Janifer. She said her brother had just gotten out of a federal prison in Allenwood, Pa., and was supposed to have reported to a homeless shelter. He went to his old neighborhood instead, she said.

He had odd jobs over the years but spent most of his life in and out of prison, she told the investigator. Baskin, the son of a federal government worker and a homemaker, also had two brothers.

"I never even got a chance to talk to him. He only just got out," Janifer said, her eyes red from crying earlier. "I don't know what this could have been about."

Clues Diminishing Quickly

The first 48 hours of a homicide case are critical for detectives because memories are freshest and witnesses are easiest to find. So far, Patterson's case was not looking good. His witnesses were not very compelling, his victim was less than sympathetic, and the forensic evidence was unlikely on its own to lead to any suspects.

For Patterson, it was a painfully familiar scenario. Each day, he deals with people on the fringe of society, working through a maze of lies, half-truths, grief and anger.

The day after Baskin was killed, Patterson and his partner, a young investigator named Doug Carlson, returned to the Rhode Island Avenue area, hoping to locate surveillance cameras in nearby businesses or rooftops. Maybe the shooting or its aftermath was captured on tape. Neither detective expected much. These cameras almost never even work, they explained.

True to form, a convenience store's camera that might have shown the killing had no tape. None of the other cameras in the area was pointed in the direction of the shooting.

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