Police Had Suspects' Address Before Slashing

Olivia Miles, 26, is thought to have driven the killers' getaway car.
Olivia Miles, 26, is thought to have driven the killers' getaway car. (Courtesy Wrc-tv4 - Courtesy Wrc-tv4)
By Allison Klein and Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Detectives investigating a series of robberies in Georgetown had the address of two of the suspects now connected to the slaying of Alan Senitt three weeks before he was attacked.

The information came from a 24-year-old Georgetown woman who was held up June 11 -- three blocks from the place where Senitt later would be slain. She said she provided the address on Robinson Place SE after learning that her credit card was used to make a purchase that was shipped there.

"I thought when I gave them the address, it would be a grand slam and they would get the guys," the woman said in an interview.

But it was not until July 9 that police apprehended anyone at the address the woman had provided.

By then, they were pursuing a homicide investigation. Hours after Senitt's throat was slashed, detectives found two men inside the apartment on the dead-end street, one wearing bloody clothing. Authorities charged the men with murder and are investigating whether they were responsible for earlier holdups. No charges have been filed in the earlier cases.

The Georgetown woman, who is not being identified by The Washington Post because she is a witness in her robbery case, provided new details that shed light on the activities of police in the weeks before Senitt was slain.

Senitt, 27, a British citizen, was caught by surprise at 2 a.m. July 9 as he walked a friend home in the 3100 block of Q Street NW. Police said one of the robbers attempted to sexually assault Senitt's friend.

Police officials said last week that Senitt's attackers were suspects in at least two other recent holdups. The Georgetown woman said she is a victim from one of the earlier cases: She was attacked about 2 a.m. June 11 near 27th and P streets NW by three men who put a gun in her face, grabbed her purse and demanded her cellphone. She was not injured.

About a week after she was robbed, the Georgetown woman said, she got a letter from her credit card company notifying her that her card was used to order an item being shipped to the 2700 block of Robinson Place SE.

The item was ordered from a company that sells male-enhancement products. The woman said she alerted the police, figuring the information would lead to the robbers.

Police responded by telling her they could not get an arrest warrant without first doing surveillance at the apartment building and then conducting a lineup to determine whether she could identify suspects. She said she was sure she could identify her attackers and was waiting for a call from the police.

Instead, she said, on July 9 she saw the faces of the men who robbed her flash across a television screen because they had been arrested in Senitt's slaying.

In addition to the address she provided, police also had surveillance video of the suspects from a camera at a gas station, where the suspects apparently used a credit card taken in another robbery, the Georgetown woman said.

The men -- Christopher Piper, 25, and Jeffrey Rice, 22 -- resided at the Robinson Place address, police said. They are jailed without bond on felony murder charges. A 15-year-old who allegedly joined in the attack also is charged with murder, as is a woman accused of driving a getaway car, Olivia Miles, 26.

The day after Senitt's killing, police called the Georgetown woman and confirmed what she already knew: that the men were suspected in her case, too, she said.

The investigator in charge of the case and his supervisors declined to comment yesterday, saying they did not want to jeopardize an ongoing investigation. The Georgetown woman said that she thought the investigator she was dealing with did an excellent job but that he seemed frustrated by the process.

Police officials said last week that a grand jury had been convened in the earlier Georgetown robberies. Chief Charles H. Ramsey also said that police did not have the identities of specific suspects before Senitt's slaying. Police had gone to the Robinson Place apartment building before Senitt was killed, Ramsey said, but did not find the men.

The failure to quickly make arrests in the earlier Georgetown robberies has parallels to events surrounding another homicide case. Police now believe that the suspects accused in the killing of retired New York Times journalist David E. Rosenbaum on Jan. 6 had robbed a man beforehand. The victim in that attack, a retired police officer, said police did not do enough follow-up after his robbery in November.

In the case of the Georgetown woman's robbery, the U.S. attorney's office became involved in the investigation June 15, four days after her mugging, said spokesman Channing Phillips.

With the number of robberies surging, police have been coming to prosecutors earlier in investigations, particularly in cases in which credit cards or cellphones have been stolen, Phillips said.

Cellphones and credit cards can provide promising leads for detectives, but privately some prosecutors say detectives have not always been aggressive about developing those leads when the trail is hot.

When lineups are conducted, they can take days, sometimes weeks, to set up if the target of the investigation is not under arrest. In such cases, the target must be subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury, which orders the person to appear in a lineup.

The police work on the Senitt case also is drawing criticism of another sort from the union representing the department's officers. A document obtained by The Post shows that officers from each of the department's seven districts were called to respond to Georgetown the night of the slaying to set up a 20-block perimeter in hopes of catching the suspects.

That is highly unusual and rarely, if ever, happens when homicides occur in other, less affluent districts, said Officer Kristopher Baumann, chairman of the D.C. police labor committee for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company