Potomac Teenagers Lured Man to Fatal Attack, Officials Say

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 16, 2009; B01

The two Potomac teenagers charged in the beating death of a Gaithersburg man in May had lured him to a darkened path, where one of them hit him in the back of the head with a shovel, Montgomery County authorities said Thursday.

"This was a planned, premeditated attack," Montgomery prosecutor Gerald Collins said at a hearing for Emily Geller, 18, who was ordered held without bond.

She and her boyfriend, 15-year-old Artie Ellis, who is charged as an adult, conspired to rob 57-year-old Ali Zare, officials said. After he fell to the ground, the two teenagers went through his pockets and then "left him there to die," Collins said.

Geller knew Zare, although authorities have provided no specifics about how they met. Zare, an immigrant from Iran who lived on Apricot Lane in Gaithersburg, had worked as a car salesman. A family member declined to discuss the case Thursday.

Emily Livingston, Geller's attorney in another case, didn't return messages seeking a comment Thursday.

Ellis also remained in custody Thursday. He is expected to have a bond hearing early next week. His attorney, Rene Sandler, declined to comment.

The homicide investigation dates to May 10, when a jogger found Zare's body on the path along the 8300 block of Bells Mill Road in Potomac, between the Georgetown Day Care Center and Bells Mill Elementary School.

Detectives arrested the teenagers Wednesday, the day they found the shovel at Geller's home, authorities said Thursday.

But detectives had zeroed in on the two early in the case, according to court documents made public Thursday. The connection was partially made through a car -- a blue Subaru -- that Zare was driving the evening of May 9, according to police charging documents.

The next day, the Subaru was found abandoned near Seven Locks Elementary School. Two witnesses said they saw a young woman leave the car and run behind the school, according to charging documents.

Geller's fingerprints were found on the car, police said.

Detectives also learned that Zare's Macy's card was used after his death. Surveillance images from Montgomery Mall showed two teenagers who resemble the suspects leaving an ATM.

On May 21, detectives searched Ellis's home in the 7700 block of Scotland Drive in Potomac. They found Zare's cellphone in the teenager's bedroom, police said.

Call records from that phone also connected at least one of the teenagers to the victim. Several calls were placed to and from Geller's house, the last occurring just before midnight May 9, according to charging documents.

It wasn't immediately clear who had possession of the cellphone when the calls were made and received.

Detectives also spoke with two witnesses who said that Geller had told them that Ellis struck the victim with the shovel but that they did not mean to kill him, according to charging documents.

During the investigation, Geller also was picked up in a different case that appears unrelated to the killing.

On Aug. 25, an off-duty police officer driving on Interstate 270 just after 9 p.m. was passed by a Volkswagen Touareg that was swerving through traffic with no lights on, according to court records. The officer tried to pull the car over but it sped off, leading the officer on a chase.

Near Montrose Parkway East and Executive Boulevard, the Touareg went off the road and the driver ran away. The officer chased her into the woods and hit her with a stun gun, according to court records.

The driver turned out to be Geller, according to court records. She said she had been at the house of a friend who had asked, "Who wants a car?" and she had driven off in it, according to court records. The car turned out to have been stolen, police said.

A county official said urine tests in the August case yielded "positive" results, an indication of alcohol or drug use.

In 2003, Zare was found guilty of petty larceny and misdemeanor hit-and-run in Prince William County, according to court records.

Researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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