A Dad's Grief, a Detective's Instinct

By Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 8, 2009

D.C. police Detective Rene Dessin knows the homicide next door in Prince George's County is not his to solve. But he can't stop himself from helping out.

The 24-year veteran has spent hours interviewing witnesses. He has pressed street informants for leads and developed theories. He has asked District colleagues to volunteer their time on a case that has touched him like no other could. After leaving a nightclub with friends in November, Dessin's only child, Marcel, was shot to death on a desolate stretch of Central Avenue when a dozen rounds were fired from a moving car.

Parents grieve the violent deaths of their children through prayer, counseling and activities such as volunteering or lavishing attention on their remaining children. But Dessin, an undercover officer who is no stranger to bloody crime scenes, is in a rare position of having the skills and contacts to help find the person who did it. Friends have counseled him to let the Prince George's police do their job so that he doesn't jeopardize any potential prosecution. Dessin recognizes that he's not the investigator. But he can't accept this killer walking free.

"We'd see the bodies every night -- I guess you don't see it until it knocks on your door," Dessin said. "This was my son. It may be my last investigation."

Marcel Dessin was a fixture at the major narcotics units, where his father three times faced the barrel of a gun buying drugs undercover. Little Marcel was surrounded by his father's co-workers, who advised against crowds and shady characters. There, he sprouted from a tot wearing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle outfits to a hulking teen who, as a lineman on his football team, smashed into people. If trouble had been brewing, Dessin is convinced, Marcel's instincts would have prompted him to leave immediately, just as he taught him.

So it's difficult for his dad to grasp these facts: Marcel was fatally shot Nov. 24 as he and two friends left a go-go show on Central Avenue when a gunman or gunmen opened fire into his mother's car just after 3 a.m. At the sound of gunfire, a friend tried to shield Marcel. "It was too late," Dessin said. "One of the bullets hit him in the head."

The car crashed into an embankment and ran into a fire hydrant, injuring his two friends and leaving the 22-year-old slumped dead between the front seats. No arrests have been made.

Prince George's Detective Thomas Lancaster, the lead investigator, said there are few leads in the case. There were initial reports of a Dodge Magnum speeding by or a dark-colored Honda or Acura in the vicinity.

"We'd like to talk to anybody who may have seen this shooting," Lancaster said. "It went on for several blocks. It's just been very hard to locate witnesses."

Lancaster also has a personal stake in the case: He served on a task force with Marcel's uncle in the 1990s and respects the elder Dessin.

"It's tough because he's a fellow officer," Lancaster said. "It's a personal case."

Dessin is searching for his own answers. The day before the killing, father and son played basketball with friends at Gallaudet University, near Dessin's station. Then they went to the home of Marcel's mother in Oxon Hill to eat dinner and watch a Redskins game. Later, Marcel borrowed his mother's car to go to Le Pearl nightclub.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company