Killing of D.C. teen linked to suspect's anger over trick

By Theola Labbé-DeBose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The 15-year-old teen was having fun, hanging out with some friends last month in Northwest Washington. Then, police said, some other teens "faked" on them, or pretended to have a gun.

The trick was meant to disrespect the 15-year-old's group, and it left him angry, authorities said. A couple of weeks later, on Feb. 21, police said, he saw two youths from the other group near Seventh and Rittenhouse streets NW and fatally shot Joel Watkins, 15.

The alleged shooter was arrested Monday and appeared in court Tuesday to face first-degree murder and weapons charges. The Washington Post generally does not identify juvenile defendants unless they are charged as adults.

D.C. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Carroll Wingo listened for nearly two hours as juvenile court probation officials detailed the teen's personal and educational background and the teen's attorney, Marie-Pierre Py of the public defender service, argued that he should be released to a shelter house. Assistant attorneys general Eric Huang and Scott Leighton asked Wingo to keep the youth in a secure detention facility.

He is a 10th-grader from Northwest with a consistent attendance record. He had no prior arrests and two school suspensions: one from several years ago for fighting and one for not wearing a uniform. He has smoked marijuana in the past but tested clean at the time of his arrest Monday. He abides by an 8:30 p.m. weekday curfew and a 10 p.m. weekend curfew, according to his mother. She and more than a dozen family members came to court to support the teen.

Jonathan Clingerman, a D.C. homicide detective, testified that police found a witness who saw the youth the night of the shooting wearing black clothes and a black mask and walking down an alley near where Watkins's body was found. The witness heard three gunshots. Later, the witness said, the youth came to his house and tried to give him a gun, but the witness refused to take it, according to Clingerman.

A second witness spoke by phone to the youth on the night of the shooting. Clingerman said the alleged shooter told the witness, "Don't come around the way," referring to the scene. That witness said that the youth later told him that he'd "shot the boys at Seventh and Rittenhouse," and asked him to provide an alibi.

Clingerman said the youth admitted to the killing after he was arrested by D.C. police. Police did not recover a weapon.

Wingo said that although the youth's home and school background are relatively good, "when you're talking about premeditated murder, it would need to be perfection before I could begin to consider releasing someone."

The youth, who pleaded "not involved," the juvenile court equivalent of not guilty, will remain in secure detention. His trial is scheduled for next month.

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