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For Homicide Investigators, The Streets Yield Few Allies

No cameras, no new witnesses, no breakthroughs.

Then, as the investigators walked near the crime scene, they came across their one star witness: the man who claimed to have seen the shooting. He seemed slightly disoriented and constantly blinked bloodshot eyes. He was shuffling along the street in front of the homicide scene, right over the spot where Baskin was shot.

The man went through his story again, and Patterson and Carlson were relieved as he repeated what he had said the previous day. Demonstrating what he saw, the man held out his right hand like a gun and pretended to pull the trigger. Two shots, he said. He even pointed to the exact spot where the gunman had stood.


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)

One problem: The man was standing about 30 feet from where police had recovered shell casings. The detectives exchanged a quick glance, realizing that the witness's story did not match evidence indicating where the shots had been fired.

The trip to the neighborhood produced nothing of value, and the case appeared to be getting weaker instead of stronger. But that night, Patterson received a page that gave him a lift. A neighborhood informant was saying one of Baskin's girlfriends had information about the killing. Though he was off duty, Patterson went back to work.

He located the girlfriend at her apartment and took her to the homicide office. Baskin had been trying to sell heroin the day he was shot, she said. She did not see the shooting, she told the police. But offering to help, she provided some nicknames of people who might have been there. She said she did not know their full names.

The next morning, Patterson and Carlson resumed their canvassing of the area near the crime scene, chatting with nearly a dozen more people. Most claimed to know nothing. Some had been drinking, their clothes and breath reeking of liquor. Some admitted to using heroin recently.

One man told Patterson that he had heard about the killing, that it had been a brazen attack, that the gunman had told some people to get out of the way. But he didn't see it.

As they drove back to the office, Patterson and Carlson remained at a loss. The first 48 hours were up, and they weren't getting any closer.

Patterson has seen his share of motives over the years: killings over women, a craps game, drug turf, neighborhood rivalries, other beefs. "It's sad. It's unbelievable, really, what you see," he said.

"Some of the things you see -- really, you just walk away asking why would someone do that to another person," Patterson continued. "What could that person have done to provoke that? I don't know why anyone kills anyone. I guess some people are just cold and brutal, vicious."

He and Carlson mulled the potential motives in Baskin's case. Maybe he was killed over a drug dispute. Perhaps it was over turf or cash. Or maybe it was retaliation by someone he had harmed in or out of prison during his troubled life.

"There are almost too many possibilities," Patterson told Carlson. "Who knows why this guy was shot? My man certainly had lots of enemies."

Violence Avenged?

A week after Baskin's death, Patterson was on the hunt for clues -- at Baskin's funeral.


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