By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
The beating death of a pizzeria owner in Northeast Washington two weeks ago was tied to an immigration scam in which the victim had agreed to pay a Maryland woman $500 a week to marry his brother, then reneged on the deal after the wedding, a witness told D.C. police.
At first, the slaying of Shahabuddin Rana, 44, inside his Pizza Mart in the 2300 block of Fourth Street NE appeared to have stemmed from a conventional robbery, police said. But they said a bizarre story took shape in the days afterward, leading to the arrest Friday of Shanika Robinson, 26, of Capitol Heights.
In an affidavit filed in D.C. Superior Court, Detective Robert Cephas said a witness told him that Rana had been paying Robinson to continue in a sham marriage with his brother, a Pakistani national who helps run the Pizza Mart in the Edgewood neighborhood. The scheme was intended to improve the brother's immigration status and help him eventually get his green card, the affidavit says.
The deal fell apart, however, after the brother, whom police have not publicly identified, found out that Robinson "was having sexual affairs," Cephas wrote. Even though the brother and Robinson were married only on paper and did not live together, Rana "became upset" with Robinson and told her "that she would not be getting paid the money that they agreed upon anymore," the affidavit says.
Robinson, accompanied by three men, allegedly confronted Rana while he was alone in the 24-hour pizzeria late Aug. 17 or early Aug. 18. Police said his assailants slashed and beat Rana, fracturing his skull in several places, then tried to burn his body before fleeing with about $2,000 in cash and packages of Newport cigarettes and Dutch Masters and Black and Mild cigars.
Police interviewed the witness, identified only as W1, on Friday, not long before Robinson was arrested. Cephas said the witness was not present during the killing but spoke with Robinson about Rana before and after the crime.
Police declined to say whether they know the identities of the men who allegedly took part in the killing. Robinson, who is charged with murder, is being held without bail.
The affidavit does not say how long Robinson and the brother have been married but says the brother acknowledged the union in an interview. Relatives of Rana, who lived in the 800 block of Sligo Avenue in Silver Spring, have declined to comment about his killing.
The Pizza Mart, a boxlike single-story building with a high-peaked, bright red roof, doubles as a deli and grocery. Police said Rana's brother went there to relieve Rana about noon Aug. 18 and found the door locked. Someone flagged a patrol officer, who forced open the door with pliers, the affidavit says.
Rana was "unconscious on the floor, face down, in a pool of blood," Cephas wrote. "There were burnt matches on his back, and his body appeared to have been set on fire."
According to the witness's statement, Robinson "stated to W1 that once all parties were inside of the Pizza Mart, the defendant complained that [Rana] had stopped paying her money to marry his brother. A verbal altercation ensued over the money. The altercation became physical. The defendant and her associates began beating [Rana]. Thereafter, they stole money and other items, including cigars and cigarettes."
Police said that Robinson and her alleged accomplices burned their blood-soaked clothes in a barbecue grill behind the house where Robinson lived, in the 5200 block of Addison Road, and that she used $1,650 of the stolen money to pay her rent. In a search of the Capitol Heights house, police said, they found packages of Black and Mild and Dutch Masters cigars.
In a police interview, Cephas said, Robinson "admitted that she knew the decedent and that she was married to the decedent's brother. She claimed she was present at the Pizza Mart with three males." But she "blamed the actual murder and robbery on the three men," saying she waited outside while the killing occurred, according to the affidavit.
Robinson "admitted receiving cash as her portion of this crime," Cephas wrote. "But when pressed about her role in this crime, she terminated the interview."