Md. Stabbing Suspect Had Just Left Prison

Investigating Stabbing Incidents
Police gather in the mall parking garage outside the store where two women were stabbed on Wednesday. (Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
By David Snyder and Jennifer Lenhart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 27, 2005

Antoinette C. Starks left the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup about 2:30 Tuesday afternoon after serving 16 months for malicious destruction of property.

The next night -- less than 28 hours after being freed -- she was back in police custody after more than 25 witnesses told investigators that Starks, wielding four large butcher knives, chased several women at a Nordstrom store in a Montgomery County shopping center, stabbing two of them, police said.

State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler called the attacks an "absolute aberration" in the otherwise safe Westfield Shoppingtown Montgomery and neighborhood of Bethesda. The last high-profile crime in what was then known as Montgomery Mall was a shooting at a store in 1995.

The incident Wednesday started in Nordstrom's third-floor customer service area. Witnesses told police that Starks, carrying a black purse and the knives -- two of them taped together to create a double blade -- stabbed Sarah Paseltiner, 24, of Bethesda, then chased two other women while dozens of people frantically dialed 911 on their cell phones. Employees and customers scurried for any available exit, and shoppers were corralled in stockrooms and other areas that are normally restricted.

Adam Karcher, an off-duty FBI agent from the Philadelphia office who is on assignment in the District, told investigators he saw Starks thrust a butcher knife several times into Jacqueline Greismann, 48, of Potomac, who was descending the escalator from the third level to the second, according to court papers.

The attacks ended when Karcher pointed his service weapon at Starks and ordered her to drop her knife. She complied, police said.

Greismann and Paseltiner were seriously wounded. Sheida Shahandeh, 21, of Rockville -- a Nordstrom employee, a company official said -- suffered an asthma attack after Starks chased her through the store, according to court papers.

The victims do not appear to have been selected for any particular reason, police said.

Officials said Starks, 48, may have been living out of a storage shed before she was sent to prison. She had been in a handful of scrapes with the law and was convicted in 2003 of vandalizing vehicles, business signs, buildings, sidewalks, windows and patio furniture in Rockville with the spray-painted phrase "David is a [expletive]." Before Wednesday night's incident, she had not been accused of such a violent felony.

It could not be determined last night whether Starks had obtained a lawyer. A public defender said during Starks's bond hearing yesterday afternoon that no public defender had interviewed Starks yet.

Early yesterday, police filed an affidavit charging her with 16 crimes, including three counts of first-degree assault, three counts of attempted second-degree murder, concealing a deadly weapon and reckless endangerment.

Starks appeared at the bond hearing via closed-circuit television in Montgomery District Court. Wearing a beige prison jumpsuit, she shielded her face with her hands yesterday and told Judge Gary G. Everngam that she did not want a bond hearing. Assistant State's Attorney Tom DeGonia asked that she be held without bail.

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