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Fatal crossroads leaves a day laborer dead in Southeast and a teen's future hanging in the balance

Manuel Sanchez, an illegal immigrant, worked as a bricklayer, among other jobs.
Manuel Sanchez, an illegal immigrant, worked as a bricklayer, among other jobs. (Courtesy Rafael Canela)
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By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 25, 2010

As people who knew him tell it, this was Manuel Sanchez's American experience:

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Fleeing poverty in El Salvador, he walked into the United States illegally across miles of desert in 1998. He worked as a bricklayer or as a laborer, depending on the economy, and drank heavily for a time, often squandering his wages.

On May 28, behind a vacant tenement in Southeast Washington, where Sanchez, 29, and two of his cousins had been bagging trash and cutting weeds, the men were accosted by a pair of would-be robbers.

Now Sanchez is gone, air-freighted back to his rural home town in a coffin, allegedly shot by a suspect six days past his 16th birthday, a ward of the city's youth rehabilitation agency. The accused killer, Javon Hale, and the other suspect, Rafael Douglas, also 16, are due in D.C. Superior Court on Friday for a preliminary hearing, each charged as an adult with murder after two witnesses identified them to police.

Some killings rivet the media and the public: An esteemed lawyer mysteriously stabbed in Northwest Washington townhouse; a University of Virginia lacrosse star savagely pummeled in her apartment; a beloved D.C. school principal shot in his Silver Spring home.

And some homicides go largely unnoticed beyond the tumbledown blocks where they occur, beyond the families and friends of the slain and the handcuffed and the authorities seeking justice. The shooting of Manuel DeJesus Sanchez was such a crime.

"Sweetest man in the whole world," said his boss, Rafael Canela. "And they murder him for no damn reason."

The suspects, locked up without bond, have pleaded not guilty. Hale, who has a record of juvenile crime, had been let out of Boys Town, a group home, on a weekend pass just hours before Sanchez died bleeding on a dingy patch of Hillside Road SE in Benning Heights.

Hale's mother, LaShaun Hale, said her youngest son is innocent.

"My children are not animals," she said, meaning Javon and his two older brothers, both also behind bars. One is awaiting sentencing for armed carjacking; the other, a trial in a torture-kidnapping case.

"The police is always trying to pin stuff on my kids that they didn't do," she said.

It was homicide No. 39 of the year in Washington. As of Thursday, the count was up to 55, each case remarkable in its dismal particulars.

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