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

By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 11, 2010; A01

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.

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.

This was some crew Jones had hooked up with, authorities say -- a gang that couldn't shoot straight:

There was Alston's 19-year-old son, Arvel Crawford, on probation for dealing crack. Born six months after Alston was locked up for murder in 1990, Crawford had not met his father in the free world until 2007, when Alston was paroled.

There was Jarvis Clark, also 19, who did window-tinting and audio work for Wilkerson. He was out on a suspended sentence in a gun-possession case and awaiting a trial on suspicion of dealing ecstasy.

And last, but by no means least, there was Roshun (sometimes Rashun) Parker, a.k.a. "Too Sharp." At 27, Parker is a shifty survivor adept at working both sides of the street -- a criminal one day, an informer the next. He would be the first suspect arrested in the case. And he would promptly confess and cut a deal with prosecutors, implicating Jones, Wilkerson, Crawford and Clark in return for reduced charges and less prison time, court records show.

As Parker told it, the plan was to grab Herring as he left the building, force him back into his girlfriend's apartment, steal cash and whatever else of value he kept there, then bundle him into his Infiniti, drive him to his house and rob him again.

Near 9 o'clock, the metal door of building No. 4329 swung open, and out walked Herring, headed to his car in the quiet lot -- which wouldn't be quiet for long.

'Major money'

A few hours earlier, four miles away, in Temple Hills. . . .

Wilkerson's shop, Automotive Custom Touch, is a squat brick garage in a low-end business strip near the Iverson Mall. A neon sign above the door advertises "Bling Blings" -- chrome rims, window graphics, high-decibel stereo systems ("Ask about our $99 tint!"). That was where most of the robbery crew gathered, in a back room, to prepare for the night's work, Parker told detectives, according to a court affidavit.

Parker said Alston had told him a couple of days before the robbery that he and some people had a "job" lined up that could mean "major money."

The affidavit suggests that Alston was the leader. He had all the intel on Herring -- where he'd be, and when. Alston also had the most violent past.

One night in 1990, he and an accomplice robbed two men in a car in Fairmont Heights. When the victims turned out to be light on cash, Alston and his pal opened fire, killing one of them. The other survived and testified. Alston and his companion got life sentences, later reduced to 25 years.

In enlisting Parker in the Herring robbery, Alston evidently wasn't aware of Too Sharp's situational ethics: his willingness to help authorities in return for them helping him.

Not many years ago, for instance, Parker collected the standard $25,000 reward offered by D.C. police for information leading to a homicide arrest and conviction. Prosecutors recently disclosed that bit of history to defense attorneys in the current case. Parker had helped detectives solve a nearly decade-old murder and testified against the two defendants, each of whom got 50 years in prison, according to court records.

Parker was caught up in a cocaine case and managed to plea-bargain down to a two-year jail stint, court records show.

In the Washington Highlands shooting, all four of the men Parker implicated are charged with first-degree murder because someone was killed during a felony. All have been denied bail and are being held in the D.C. jail.

Parker pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a deal with prosecutors soon after he was arrested. He probably won't be sentenced for many months, until he finishes testifying against the others, who have pleaded not guilty.

In the meantime, Too Sharp could go free, if he isn't already. On Friday, with no objection from the U.S. attorney's office, a D.C. Superior Court judge set bail at $5,000.

Parker's attorney did not return a phone call seeking comment, and attorneys for the other men declined to discuss their clients' cases.

Financial troubles

That Tuesday, Dec. 1, Parker said, he rode to the accessories shop with Alston before the robbery. He said Alston had told him about his good friend Wilkerson, whose rap sheet includes guilty pleas to drug and gun possession and being an accessory after the fact to murder. "My man 'L,' " Alston called him.

Parker said Alston told him that Wilkerson knew a police officer who was going to work with the crew. When he and Alston got to the garage, Parker said, he saw a marked cruiser out front. In the back room, he said, the officer, in street clothes, listened quietly as the men went over the plan.

Court filings show that Jones was beset by money woes. Three years after he joined the force, he and the woman in his life, Veronica Williams, bought a two-story brick house in Upper Marlboro for $370,000, financing the entire cost.

As of last spring, they owed more than $28,000 in delinquent mortgage payments. A month before the robbery, they were served with foreclosure papers. And records show recent legal judgments against Jones for about $25,000 in unpaid consumer debts.

Jones was on the 4 p.m.-to-midnight shift Dec. 1. His boss later said he thought the officer was busy doing paperwork all evening.

Instead, detectives say, he was at the wheel of the cruiser, with Wilkerson beside him and Clark in the back seat. Parker rode in the Chrysler with Alston, who stopped at an apartment in the District to pick up Crawford, then drove to the robbery scene, police say.

Why Herring? Herring said he doesn't know. Records show he makes $50,000 a year working for the District's parking enforcement agency, checking meters and printing tickets. He's a 20-year municipal employee with a modest house on a Fort Washington cul-de-sac. In a brief interview in his living room last week, Herring said that he vaguely knows Wilkerson -- he was vague about how -- but that the other men are strangers to him.

Although he had more than $4,000 in cash in his car and $700 in one of his pockets the night of Dec. 1, and police say he had 31.4 grams of crack stashed in his pants, Herring said he isn't a drug dealer, has a clean record and will fight the charge against him.

The cash came from a friend who owed him money, he said. The crack? "They plant that stuff on you, you know."

Now he's in danger of losing his job, he said. Plus his wife found out he has a girlfriend.

A change of plans

It was 7:43 p.m. when Alston parked at Fourth Street and Livingston Terrace.

A police anticrime camera mounted on a telephone pole at the intersection captured his arrival, detectives say. Although it's unclear whether Alston knew he was being recorded, a "NOTICE" sign on the pole says: "This Area May Be Monitored by the Metropolitan Police Using Closed Circuit Television."

As detectives tell it:

Alston, Crawford and Parker walked to the parking lot, where Clark joined them, the four huddling until Herring appeared.

At gunpoint, they wrestled him back to the door of No. 4329 and told him to open it -- but he didn't have a key. They told him to push his girlfriend's buzzer -- but she didn't answer. So they gave up on the apartment-robbery phase of the plan and skipped to the part where they would drive Herring to Fort Washington.

Alston backed Herring's Infiniti out of its parking space as the other men hustled the victim toward the car.

But no way was Herring going to get in. "They'd have killed me," he said.

He struggled -- screaming for help to the police officer who was parked nearby, at the end of the driveway. The officer did nothing. Then came a gunshot. Police say Crawford pulled the trigger. The bullet missed Herring but found another victim, Crawford's father. As Parker recalled it, Alston, wounded in the torso, groaned to his son, "What the [expletive] you doing?"

Police say Crawford then opened fire on Herring, wounding him slightly in the right side, as Alston got out of the Infiniti and staggered toward Fourth Street, collapsing on the sidewalk.

Parker said Crawford stood over his father, yelling: "Get up, Dad! Get up!"

But Arvel Alston was down for good.

Dying on the pavement, he had a little more than $4,000 in one of his pockets, cash he apparently had grabbed off the center console of Herring's car.

Major money.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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