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Fourth suspect arrested in slaying of D.C. school principal

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 20, 2010; B05

Montgomery County homicide detectives interviewed a fourth and final suspect in the slaying of well-known D.C. middle school principal Brian Betts until 4 a.m. Wednesday, and they still think the motive behind the killing was robbery, officials said.

Joel Johnson, 19, was picked up at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the District. Detectives obtained a murder warrant against him May 6, three days after two alleged accomplices implicated him during questioning by investigators, according to officials and charging documents.

Like the three others charged in the killing, Johnson was linked to the crime because of transactions involving Betts's stolen credit cards after the 42-year-old educator was slain, police said. The transactions linking the cards to Johnson were made April 15, the day Betts's body was found.

Johnson was charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit armed robbery and armed robbery, according to charging documents. He was being held Wednesday in the D.C. jail pending extradition to Montgomery.

Capt. Patricia Walker, head of the Montgomery County police major crimes unit, said, "We still believe the motive for this whole thing was robbery."

Joel Johnson provided some level of information when questioned by detectives, Walker said. "He gave us some useful information," she said.

Four people were previously charged in the case.

Sharif T. Lancaster, Alante Saunders and Deontra Q. Gray, all 18, have been charged with murder. Lancaster's mother, Artura Otey Williams, 46, is charged with trying to use Betts's credit card at a Giant Food store.

Police said that Betts met one of the teenagers on a national phone sex chat line and that they went to his house to rob him.

Betts, principal at Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson in the District and one of the public faces of D.C. education reform efforts, was found dead in his Silver Spring home after colleagues, worried when he failed to show up for work, went to check on him.

Police have said that several of the suspects went to Betts's house the night of April 14 or early April 15.

Walker said detectives were examining how the chat line might have led to a meeting between Betts and at least one of the teenagers. She urged anyone who speaks to people on chat lines to check out whether what people say is true, and meet them in a public place.

"When you encounter people on chat lines, you need to be cautious when you meet them," she said.

She said that nothing in the investigation had uncovered anything that would diminish Betts's public image.

"Brian Betts was a wonderful human being and a great educator and a great administrator, and nothing will detract from that, and that's what he should be remembered for," she said.

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