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DNA Leads To Arrest In Slaying

Hopkins Student Was Asphyxiated

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 24, 2005; Page B01

A former restaurant cook who casually knew Johns Hopkins senior Linda Trinh was charged yesterday in her death, two months after her partially clothed body was discovered in her apartment near the university's Baltimore campus.

Trinh, a 21-year-old biomedical engineering student from Silver Spring, was the second Hopkins student in nine months to be killed, prompting ripples of fear among students and heightened security measures at the school.

Linda Trinh, 21, a senior from Silver Spring, was the second Hopkins student to be killed in nine months. (Johns Hopkins University)

Donta M. Allen, 27, was charged with first-degree murder in Trinh's death, several weeks after he allowed police to take a DNA sample from him, according to his attorney, Warren A. Brown. Police said yesterday that they had been watching Allen, who lived near campus in North Baltimore, and were waiting for the DNA results before arresting him.

Brown, who said he had not spoken with Allen since his arrest, said he hoped the police were not rushing to judgment to close a high-profile case.

Police said DNA matching Allen's was discovered in Trinh's apartment, though they declined to specify where it was found. A video surveillance camera shows him in the apartment building the day she was killed, according to Baltimore police spokesman Matt Jablow.

Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm said investigators have not uncovered a motive for the slaying. "We have no idea at this point," Hamm said. Jablow said police believe that Trinh and Allen knew each other casually. Allen was not a Hopkins student, but police said he often socialized in the university community.

Allen, who earlier this year worked as a line cook at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant at the Inner Harbor, had dated a woman in Trinh's building, Brown said. The two women were also sorority sisters.

The night before Trinh was discovered dead, Allen unsuccessfully tried to visit his girlfriend in the building, Brown said. When she did not answer her door, Allen went to Trinh's apartment and used the phone, according to Brown.

On Jan. 23, a roommate found Trinh facedown in a half-filled bathtub with a bruise on the left side of her face, police said. They said she was wearing only a bra and a T-shirt. Investigators said they could not be sure if she was raped. She had been asphyxiated.

They found no signs of forced entry into her apartment.

Trinh's family members, who live in Silver Spring, could not be reached for comment yesterday. The Trinhs fled Vietnam in 1983, spending a year in refugee camps before arriving in the United States. Linda Trinh graduated in 2001 from Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, where she was a straight-A student in its demanding International Baccalaureate program.

She also taught Vietnamese at her Sunday school and tutored other students in math. She was a member of the National Honor Society, the French and Latin clubs and the Student Government Association. At Hopkins, Trinh was described as a standout student and leader, becoming president of her sorority and a member of the Hopkins volleyball team.

The other Hopkins student killed in the past year -- junior Christopher Elser, 20, of South Carolina -- was fatally stabbed in April in an apparent robbery at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house. That crime remains unsolved, and police said they do not believe Trinh's killing was related to that case.

University President William R. Brody posted a statement on the Hopkins Web site Wednesday, thanking police and the community for their help in closing the Trinh case.

"Linda's murder was a terrible blow to our university, especially coming so close to the death last year of Chris Elser. Linda, like Chris, was an extraordinary member of our community," the statement said.

Staff writer Phuong Ly contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company