Suspects in D.C. principal Brian Betts's slaying have criminal records

By Dan Morse and Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The three 18-year-olds charged with killing a well-known D.C. principal have lengthy criminal records that include violent crimes and in one case charges of a sex offense at age 11.

In addition, one had absconded from a juvenile detention center, another had been released to his mother against the wishes of a judge and the third was wanted at the time of the slaying for failing to appear in court, according to court records in Montgomery County and the District.

"These guys should not have been walking the streets. Now we see what happened: A principal beloved by his students was murdered," said Gregory Wims, president of the Victims' Rights Foundation based in Gaithersburg.

Brian Betts, 42, was found shot to death in an upstairs bedroom of his Silver Spring home April 15. Montgomery police said he had met at least one of the suspects on a phone-sex chat line in the hours before he was killed.

All three suspects -- Sharif T. Lancaster, Alante Saunders and Deontra Q. Gray -- made their first appearances in court Tuesday and were ordered held without bond on charges of murder, robbery and other counts.

Charging documents made public Tuesday offered details of the evidence linking the three to the crime, including commercial surveillance images of locations where Betts's credit cards were used, the documents say. One of the purchases was made within two hours of his death.

Relatives of two of the suspects said Tuesday that the teens weren't guilty. "It's all fictitious," said Michael Lancaster, Sharif Lancaster's father.

A woman who identified herself as Alante Saunders's mother but declined to give her name said after the hearing that he didn't kill anyone. "It's my son," she said.

A woman who answered the phone at Gray's house declined to comment.

Saunders's criminal history dates to 2003, when he was charged with a first-degree sex offense as an 11-year-old, according to charging documents filed in the Betts case in Montgomery District Court. In 2005, he was charged with trying to rob a woman on a D.C. street as she was on her way to work.

In 2008, Saunders was charged with theft, receiving stolen property and operating a stolen vehicle. He was ordered held in a D.C. Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services maximum juvenile detention facility for a month, according to records obtained by The Washington Post.

He later went to a less secure facility but absconded from there on or about April 1, two weeks before Betts was killed, said city government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly about juvenile records.

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