Suspect Pleads Guilty to Rosenbaum Murder

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 21, 2006

One of the men charged with killing New York Times journalist David E. Rosenbaum pleaded guilty yesterday to murder and conspiracy charges.

The surprise plea by Michael Hamlin, just a month before the first trial in the case was to begin, indicates that he could testify against his accused accomplice -- a cousin, Percey Jordan.

Hamlin, 24, told a D.C. Superior Court judge that he and Jordan attacked Rosenbaum in January as the 63-year-old journalist was walking in his Northwest Washington neighborhood.

With Hamlin's family looking on from a few rows behind Rosenbaum's relatives, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, conspiracy and conspiracy to commit robbery -- offenses that collectively carry a maximum penalty of 60 years in prison.

But a long sentence is unlikely. As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors will not seek a sentence above the maximum calculated under Superior Court's voluntary sentencing guidelines, which probably would mean a term of 15 to 35 years.

After yesterday's hearing, Rosenbaum's brother, Marcus, said it was important that Hamlin had taken responsibility. "Of course, none of this is going to bring my brother back," he added.

A long prison sentence, Marcus Rosenbaum said, will give Hamlin time to consider what he did. "We hope he will think about it -- as much as we're going to be thinking about my brother the rest of our lives," said Marcus, who was joined in court by his brother's adult children, Daniel and Dorothy. Already ill when her husband was killed, Rosenbaum's wife, Virginia, died in June.

Yesterday's hearing provided the clearest public account yet of what prosecutors believe happened shortly after 9 p.m. Jan. 6 -- an account that Hamlin confirmed in entering his guilty plea.

Setting out in Hamlin's car, Hamlin and his cousin went looking for someone to rob, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines said. Jordan had a lead pipe in a backpack and when they spotted Rosenbaum in the 3800 block of Gramercy Street NW, they came up from behind, and Jordan struck Rosenbaum in the head with the pipe, Haines said. With Rosenbaum on the ground, Hamlin took Rosenbaum's wallet from his pocket, she said.

The blow to the head would prove fatal for Rosenbaum, who died two days later.

Rosenbaum was semiconscious when firefighters and emergency medical personnel found him, and the succession of mistakes that followed in treating him -- at the scene, in the ambulance and at the hospital -- led to a public outcry and a withering critique by the D.C. inspector general's office.

As a result of the Rosenbaum case, one emergency medical services technician was fired and four firefighters are going through proceedings that could lead to termination, said Alan Etter, spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. Two supervisors who were subject to demotion retired, and a third was put on administrative leave for 10 days, Etter said.

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