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Third teen charged in D.C. principal's slaying

Montgomery County detectives carry bags of evidence from the Fifth Street NW home of Artura Otey Williams, the mother of a man charged in the slaying last month of D.C. principal Brian Betts.
Montgomery County detectives carry bags of evidence from the Fifth Street NW home of Artura Otey Williams, the mother of a man charged in the slaying last month of D.C. principal Brian Betts. (Linda Davidson/the Washington Post)
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By Maria Glod and Dan Morse
Tuesday, May 4, 2010; 10:35 AM

A third 18-year-old was charged Tuesday in the slaying of well-known D.C. principal Brian Betts.

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Deontra Q. Gray was charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery. According to charging documents, Gray "admitted that he was at Betts's residence at the time of the murder."

Sharif Tau Lancaster and Alante Saunders were charged with murder, robbery and a handgun violation Monday. Montgomery County police said Betts met the suspects on a phone-sex chat line the night he was killed.

Gray is scheduled to appear in Rockville District Court for a bond hearing Tuesday afternoon. The other two men are also expected to appear, according to police sources.

D.C. officials said Lancaster and Saunders had recently escaped from the custody of a D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services home, but it was not clear whether they were considered escapees at the time of Betts's killing.

Montgomery Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said that there was no indication the teens had any relationship with Betts before the educator arranged a meeting with one or more of them on the phone line. Officers said they think the trio used the chat line to find a target to rob.

"We believe the motive for this crime was most likely robbery," Manger said. Officers offered no details about how the robbery went wrong or why Betts was shot.

Betts, 42, principal at Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson and one of the public faces of education reform efforts in the District, was found dead in his Silver Spring home April 15 by colleagues worried after he failed to show up for work.

At first, the case was a mystery. No one could imagine who would want to harm an educator who knew many of his students by name, greeted them and parents outside the school in the mornings and, to many, became a father figure.

Police said clues they had gathered in the weeks since Betts's death allowed them to fit together pieces of a puzzle that led to the arrests. Detectives who fanned out Monday morning searching homes linked to the suspects in the District and Prince George's County found Betts's wallet with a receipt for Nike shoes inside. One of the men bought the shoes soon after the slaying, police said.

Betts's credit cards were used to make purchases in Silver Spring, Oxon Hill, Hyattsville and the District, police said. Surveillance photos show Gray, Lancaster, Saunders and Lancaster's mother using the credit cards.

Lancaster's fingerprints were found in Betts's Silver Spring home, police said. Police found Saunders's fingerprints on the inside and outside of a dark blue Nissan Xterra that was stolen from Betts's home and found abandoned in Southeast. Witnesses had said they saw two people walking away from the sport-utility vehicle. Police said they think that some of the suspects left Betts's home in the car in which they came and that others stole Betts's SUV, Manger said.

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