Doubts Raised in Case Against Man Accused of Slaying Girl, 17

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 14, 2006

The man arrested in last month's execution-style slaying of a 17-year-old girl appeared in D.C. Superior Court yesterday for the first time in the case, and his attorney claimed that the prosecution's evidence does not add up and is not enough to support charges.

Cordell J. Lesene, 20, is charged with killing Cynthia Gray in the Aug. 25 attack. Police said that Gray, who was outside with friends and holding her infant godson, rushed to place the child out of harm's way when she realized what was about to unfold in the 4600 block of Benning Road SE. She was shot moments later, and three of her friends were wounded.

Lesene was arrested Tuesday, and police have said they are looking for at least one accomplice. The crime drew widespread attention and condemnation and prompted an unusual amount of community cooperation, police said, leading to the arrest.

Lesene, of the 1500 block Kenilworth Avenue NE, was on probation after serving a few years behind bars for his role in a fatal robbery in Maryland. Police have said that Lesene and Gray knew one another, but they have declined to provide details, and no motive for the slaying emerged in court.

When Lesene was brought before Magistrate Judge Michael J. McCarthy yesterday, defense attorney Brandi Harden, of the D.C. Public Defender Service, challenged the charging documents filed by the U.S. attorney's office.

She cited inconsistencies in the accounts of the two witnesses cited in the documents. One witness reported that Lesene was wearing a mask, but the other made no mention of a mask, according to the papers.

It was that discrepancy that appeared to most trouble McCarthy. "That's a big difference," he told Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gorman.

Although acknowledging that there were some legitimate questions, McCarthy said that he nonetheless found sufficient evidence to allow the charges to move forward.

But the next hearing, scheduled for Sept. 22 before a trial judge who will vet the evidence more thoroughly, will be "interesting," McCarthy said.

Records show that Lesene was charged in a double homicide and robbery in July 2003 in Prince George's County. Authorities said they later determined that he took part in the robbery but was not the shooter in the slayings of Sair Butt, 26, and Hammad Chaudry, 22.

Lesene pleaded guilty to an armed robbery charge in May 2004 and testified against the two men later convicted in the killing. Lesene was given a 10-year prison sentence, but the judge suspended all but three years.

While he was locked up, Lesene was given credit for good behavior, and he was released from a Maryland prison in November, almost a year before his three-year sentence expired, officials said.

Lesene was supposed to be on five years of supervised probation after his release from prison as a condition of the plea deal, said Ramon Korionoff, spokesman for State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey. Authorities said yesterday that Lesene appeared to be in compliance with terms of his probation and had last reported to authorities in July.

Staff writers Ruben Castaneda and Allison Klein contributed to this report.

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