By Raymond McCaffrey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 17, 2007
A 36-year-old man serving a life sentence for murder pleaded guilty in Anne Arundel County yesterday to three brutal slayings that had been unsolved for many years before DNA evidence linked him to the crimes.
Alexander W. Watson Jr., imprisoned since 1994 for stabbing a woman in Prince George's County, admitted in Circuit Court in Annapolis that he killed Boontem Anderson, 34, who was stabbed, strangled and sexually assaulted in her Gambrills home in 1986; Elaine Shereika, 37, who was raped, stabbed, strangled and sexually assaulted while jogging near her Gambrills home in 1988; and Lisa Haenel, 14, who was stabbed and strangled on the way to school in the Glen Burnie area in 1993.
Under the plea bargain, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty. Speaking for the victims' families, Jennifer Scott, Shereika's daughter, said the guilty pleas do not represent "a great victory" or warrant "a celebration."
"We have not gotten a violent offender off of the streets of this county," Scott said. "All that has been done today is that three women's files can finally be closed, their boxes put away for good, after far too many years."
Prosecutors said they struck the deal at the urging of the victims' families. Scott said the decision to support the agreement was made after "a great deal of discussion, thought, prayer, soul searching and tears."
Watson was a minor when he killed Anderson, and there was no evidence that Haenel was sexually assaulted, so the death penalty was possible only in the slaying of Shereika. Faced with a potentially long capital case, and uncertain prospects for a conviction in the Haenel case, the victims' families endorsed the plea bargain.
Part of the deal was an arrangement that prosecutors said was unprecedented in Anne Arundel: Before the sentencing, the families were allowed to meet one on one with Watson. In a letter to the court, Shereika's son wrote that the meeting showed Watson had no remorse. "He looked at us with blank eyes and gave pat answers to our questions," Daniel D. Shereika Jr. wrote. "He stated with no feeling that he was getting high in the park when my mother ran by and thought, 'I got away with it before, so figured I could get away with it again.' "
Watson declined to address the court. He sat emotionless, surrounded by a wall of sheriff's deputies, as a prosecutor detailed his crimes:
Anderson, a mother of two, had stayed home sick from her job at Fort Meade on Oct. 8, 1986. Her 11-year-old son, returning from school, found her facedown in a bathtub.
Elaine Shereika disappeared while running before work about 5:20 a.m. on May 23, 1988. A farmer found her partially clothed body in a puddle of blood in his field.
Haenel, a ninth-grader at Old Mill High School, left her Glen Burnie home Jan. 15, 1993. Her mother's boyfriend found her nude body the next morning in a ravine near the path she used to take to school.
Watson was charged with the slayings in 2004, not long after a match was obtained from DNA samples that Anne Arundel police had sent to a database. Watson's DNA was found on the bodies of Anderson and Shereika, a bloody sock near Shereika's body and a cigarette found near Haenel. Investigators determined that Watson was living in the same neighborhoods as his victims at the time of their deaths and had worked with Anderson's son at a fast-food restaurant.
Judge Joseph P. Manck told the families that he had been in their position once -- a reference to the slaying of his mother years ago. He said that with the resolution of the case, "your lives will change" and "you will have what is commonly referred to as closure."
"You will not have the thoughts of the evil that happened to your loved ones," Manck said.
Later, however, Jennifer Scott said she doubted that was possible. "I don't believe in closure," she said. "This is just another chapter in the book. We just move on."