'Flash Point' Killings: Murder Most Casual

By Ruben Castaneda and Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 17, 2006

Andre Vincent Jr. was inside a Forestville carryout, joking with a neighborhood acquaintance. When the wordplay turned tense, Vincent, 19, tried to defuse the situation, waving off Wendell E. Jones and saying, "Ah, y'all a clown."

Thirty minutes later, as Vincent stepped to his car with a group of friends, Jones, 22 at the time, sneaked up behind him and fired six bullets into his head. As Jones walked away, court testimony would reveal, he snickered, "Who's the clown now?"

The 2004 murder was part of what law enforcement sees as an alarming trend in Prince George's County: low-"flash point" killings, in which attackers resort to deadly violence over trivial confrontations.

Police say the trend, in part, drove the sharp increase in the county's homicide count last year: 173, a record and a spike from the 148 that occurred in 2004. Twenty people have been killed in the county as of yesterday, compared with 33 by the same date in 2005.

Another such confrontation took place inside a Temple Hills liquor store in 2004, when Phillip M. Beverly, 26, politely told Edward Bell, a stranger, that he didn't have to snap the suspenders of a young woman Beverly was friends with to talk to her.

Bell, 28 then, lowered the hood of his jacket, pulled out a gun and shot Beverly to death. He started to flee but then returned and fired more rounds at the woman, who was wounded.

And outside an Oxon Hill chicken joint in 2004, Kelvin Braxton, 22, was fatally shot by Robert Garner, a 20-year-old acquaintance who became enraged after Braxton tried to shake his hand inside the restaurant.

In all three slayings, the attackers were convicted.

Although flash-point crimes have always existed, Prince George's police say they are making up an increasing proportion of homicides -- a noticeable difference from the crack-war era of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In the District, a jurisdiction with a level of violence similar to Prince George's, a large number of homicides also are the result of arguments. In Baltimore, police statistics say they are one of that community's leading homicide motives.

Deadly Arguments

During the crack epidemic of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when it was common for the District to have more than 400 homicides annually, most killings happened because of drug disputes, gang activity or retaliation for earlier shootings. But between 2001 and 2004, D.C. police say, 30 percent of killings involved drugs and the next-highest amount -- 28 percent -- was attributed to arguments.

In the 169 killings Prince George's county police investigated last year (four slayings were investigated by municipal police forces), "argument" was the most prevalent motive, police said. Forty-three homicides were motivated by an argument and 36 were drug-related. The next-highest category was robberies, at 24

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