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Homicide occurred during robbery gone wrong, D.C. police say

Addressing Judge Richard Ringell, Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner points toward officer Reginald Jones at far right as co-defendant Arvel Crawford looks on.
Addressing Judge Richard Ringell, Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner points toward officer Reginald Jones at far right as co-defendant Arvel Crawford looks on. (Sketch by William J. Hennessy Jr.)

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By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 11, 2010

An hour or so before everything went wrong and bullets flew, Arvel Alston stepped out of his Chrysler 300 at Fourth Street and Livingston Terrace SE, an ex-con with a gun and a plan.

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On parole after a 17-year prison stretch for murder, Alston, 40, was headed to a job that Tuesday evening, his work being armed robbery.

As he walked north up a steep rise on Fourth Street, an ambitious scheme occupied his thoughts. "Major money" was how he had described the plan's potential, one of his cohorts said. And it featured something new in the annals of D.C. street crime, authorities say:

One of the two lookouts helping Alston and three other robbers would be an on-duty city police officer in a marked car, ready to shoo away anyone who might become a witness.

What the plan failed to account for, though, was criminal incompetence.

It was close to 8 p.m. on Dec. 1 as Alston turned left off Fourth and entered a small parking lot at the Southern Hills Apartments, a cluster of austere redbrick blockhouses in Washington Highlands.

Two of his accomplices walked with him, detectives say, and another joined them in the lot. There, in the shadows of a doorway, police say, the four men huddled, waiting to rob a guy named Tyrone Herring, who they thought had major money.

Thirty yards away, police say, the two lookouts watched from the front seat of the police cruiser, the car idling at the curb on Fourth by the lot's only entrance, a narrow driveway opening.

At the wheel sat Officer Reginald Jones, 40, burdened lately by dire financial problems, detectives say. Jones, a member of the plainclothes gun-recovery unit, had been on the force for six years and was accustomed to nighttime stakeouts. Sitting next to him, police say, was his cousin Lynn Wilkerson, 33, owner of an auto accessories shop, a friend of Alston's and, court records show, no stranger to felonious mayhem.

Herring, who lives in Fort Washington, was in Southern Hills building No. 4329 just then, visiting his girlfriend, he said. His black Infiniti was parked in the lot. Later that night, he would be arrested on suspicion of being a crack dealer. But first he would experience a different kind of pain.

Alston and his companions lurked nearby, police say, waiting to ambush Herring in the lot.

In the absurdly inept robbery about to unfold, Herring, 45, would suffer a minor bullet wound. Alston would be killed by friendly fire. And the others would high-tail it out of there empty-handed -- all of them, gunmen and lookouts, culpable, prosecutors say, for first-degree murder in Alston's death.

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