A Killer's Plea Does Little to Ease Parents' Pain
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Jackie and Thomas Winborne dared hope that this time, at last, the saga of their missing daughter would come to a close.
A dozen years after Shaquita Bell, 23, disappeared, her admitted killer, an ex-boyfriend, pleaded guilty in D.C. Superior Court last month in a bargain with the U.S. attorney's office. It was the sort of compromise that prosecutors and victims often settle for in the real world of law and order: a deal for imperfect justice.
Michael Dickerson agreed to make a good-faith effort to lead police to the wooded spot in rural Prince George's County where he buried Bell's body in 1996. In return, he would get a 15-year sentence without parole for her killing -- less than the maximum -- and would not be prosecuted for another slaying he confessed to committing.
Guided by Dickerson, who admitted shooting Bell in the District on June 27, 1996, investigators recently combed acres of forest near Fort Washington. But his memory of the exact burial site apparently is vague.
"He took the detectives to a particular location," said D.C. police spokeswoman Traci Hughes. "And there was nothing there."
A deal is a deal, though. Dickerson, 39, promised he would try to find the grave, and he did try, authorities said. Which is small consolation to the Winbornes, whose nightmare goes on.
"We're going to find her if I have to go out there and find her myself," said Thomas Winborne, Bell's stepfather, who helped raise her.
Authorities declined to discuss specifics of the investigation, and Dickerson's attorney did not return phone messages seeking comment. But new details, including intriguing early twists in the search, have emerged from Dickerson's plea hearing Oct. 16, from police affidavits filed in court and from interviews with the Winbornes.
They reveal Dickerson's role in another 1996 killing and state that Bell informed on him in that case. They disclose that another man helped Dickerson dispose of Bell's body before he also became an informant. That man was fatally shot as he worked with investigators to elicit incriminating statements from Dickerson, one of two slayings possibly connected to Bell's disappearance.
In the years after Bell vanished, the sensational case of missing Washington intern Chandra Levy consumed countless hours of investigative work by squads of D.C. police and federal agents, while the Winbornes wondered why their daughter's disappearance seemed a far less urgent mystery to authorities and the media.
Then D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier took a personal interest in Bell's whereabouts.
"I promised Jackie when I first met her that we'd never stop looking for Shaquita," Lanier said this week. "And we won't."