No one, it turned out, wanted to relive the horror of that day when Wanda R. Alston, a close adviser to the mayor, was stabbed to death in her Northeast Washington home.
So yesterday, barely a month later, the neighbor charged with killing the longtime civil rights activist pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, averting a trial that would have pained Alston's family and friends as well as the defendant's wife and children.
Channing Phillips, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, talks about the guilty plea.
(Katherine Frey For The Washington Post)
Like others who have known William Martin Parrott Jr., 38, his family witnessed his fall into the clutches of crack cocaine. It was that addiction, he admitted yesterday in D.C. Superior Court, that was driving him the day he killed Alston.
"I'm ashamed and I'm sorry . . . because she had never done anything to me," he said in a whisper.
Parrott and his wife and children lived two doors from Alston, 45, a member of the Cabinet of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and his liaison to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Yesterday, Parrott told the court how he came to target her on March 16.
That day, Parrott was high and looking to stay that way. But he was broke. So he took a kitchen knife and knocked on the door of Alston's duplex in the 3800 block of East Capitol Street, he said.
A struggle ensued, and Alston fought. Parrott stabbed her -- twice in the chest, three times in the neck and three times in the back, according to prosecutors. A lung was punctured, her jugular vein was severed, and she suffered defensive wounds on her arms and hands. Her body was found later that day, facedown near the front door of the brick rowhouse.
As the slaying was recounted in court, Parrott's wife watched from one side of the room. Alston's friends and family watched from the other side, and one woman buried her face in her hands. Others put their arms around the shoulders of the people next to them. White tissues were passed around.
Even now, Parrott was mystified by what he did, he said in court. "I don't know why I went to her house," he said.
Parrott fled in Alston's car. He used her credit cards to barter for the cash he needed to buy more crack.
Alston had herself been an addict once, but she had given up drugs and been clean for 15 years.
News of her death brought the mayor and many others to tears. Yesterday, Williams issued a statement saying that he was "gratified that the police and prosecutors were able to bring this case to a close so quickly" and that people in the community helped lead detectives to Parrott.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Wanda's family and many friends during this difficult time," the mayor said. "Like them, I think of her often, and I miss her."
Named to her post in 2001, Alston was a former organizer for the National Organization for Women who became an energetic advocate for the city's gay and lesbian community. But she was also a blunt critic of the gay community's reluctance to welcome people of color like herself into what has traditionally been a white-led movement.
Immediately after Alston's killing, there was speculation that her sexual orientation and outspoken advocacy might have cost her her life. But it soon became clear that they did not.
Police located and arrested Parrott a day after the killing, not far from Alston's abandoned car. He told them his memory was clouded by crack cocaine. He said he remembered going into Alston's house and hurting her.
People who knew Parrott struggled to comprehend how his descent into drug addiction had spiraled into deadly violence.
On the day of his arrest, Parrott seemed stunned in D.C. Superior Court. He was silent and still as the hearing proceeded around him. Held without bond, he was scheduled to return to court this month, but that hearing was postponed, an indication that a guilty plea might be in the works.
Late yesterday, before Judge Judith E. Retchin, the plea was entered. It was negotiated by the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney John M. Cummings, and Parrott's court-appointed defense attorney, Lexi Negin Christ. Parrott faces as much as 40 years in prison when he is sentenced July 29.
When the judge asked him why he was pleading guilty and forgoing a trial, Parrott, clad in a bright orange jumpsuit, said it was what he was taught to do.
"The way I was raised," he said, "you have to take responsibility for your actions."