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Chance encounter led to artist's slaying, Montgomery, Md., authorities say

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 22, 2010; B01

In one of her final acts, Azin Naimi, a world-renowned restorer of centuries-old Russian art, took a walk from her apartment in North Bethesda shortly after dinnertime. Three blocks away was her tiny studio, in a low-slung industrial park that backs onto railroad tracks north of White Flint mall.

Already inside the building was Raymond Williams, authorities say. Naimi didn't know he was there, they say, and Williams didn't know she was coming.

What happened next, according to documents made public Wednesday and remarks made in court, was a brutal end to her 45 years.

Williams, 35, of Kensington, allegedly beat Naimi, stabbed her repeatedly with a pair of scissors -- including a thrust into one of her ear canals -- and broke two of her ribs. Authorities say he tried to clean up the scene with a mop and towels, washed her body, carried it to a sport-utility vehicle, drove to an alley in the District and dumped her body there.

"This was a vicious, senseless, violent crime, with a desperate attempt by the defendant to cover up the crime scene," Montgomery County prosecutor Stephen Chaikin said in court Wednesday.

Williams, who worked as a handyman for a business connected to the studio and knew Naimi, was ordered held without bond Wednesday. Detectives said he admitted to the slaying, and they charged him with first-degree murder. Detectives don't know why he killed her, a police spokeswoman said Wednesday evening.

Williams didn't speak during his bond hearing, and the lawyer appointed to represent him for the proceeding did not present his version of what happened.

Friends and family said Naimi spoke six languages and studied in Europe. She gave money, food and blankets to homeless people near her home and studio, and she donated much of her earnings from her profession to prominent causes, including Haiti relief.

"Pocketing money was not in her realm," said Tony Kurtz, who leased the studio to Naimi and hired her to restore paintings as part of his art company. "Azin was driven by goodness."

Kurtz also knows Williams, who worked for him. He called him good-natured and was at a loss to explain what happened.

"This is the last thing I'd expect from him," he said.

According to an arrest affidavit, signed by Detective Dimitry Ruvin, investigators built their case by tracking Naimi's final movements, reviewing video surveillance and looking at Williams's cellphone records.

Naimi was last seen leaving her residence at 7:15 p.m. Sunday. Sixteen minutes later, surveillance video from outside her studio showed her walking toward her office door, according to the affidavit.

"At that point in time, the victim was alone and everything appeared fine," Ruvin wrote.

The small studio is just off a large room -- called the Band Kamp -- which hosts jam sessions of amateur and semi-professional musicians.

In one corner of the room is a stage, with conga drums, guitars and other instruments. Paintings hang throughout. There are sofas, a pool table, ping-pong table, air hockey table and seats taken from a speedboat.

Detectives think Williams killed Naimi in the large room, according to court documents and law enforcement sources who spoke on condition that they not be named because they are not authorized to discuss the case. Williams provided no clear motive, but he said he had been drinking before Naimi's arrival, according to the sources.

In court Wednesday, Chaikin said Williams used a mop and towels to try to clean up the blood. But forensic technicians used a chemical to reveal blood evidence. Blood also was found inside the SUV that Williams was driving, Chaikin said. The surveillance video shows the SUV pulling away, according to the affidavit.

Williams's phone records indicated that at 11:01 p.m. Sunday, he called a residence in the 800 block of Farragut Street NW, near where Naimi's body was found.

On Tuesday, detectives arrested Williams in Gaithersburg and took him to police headquarters.

"He confessed to killing Naimi by stabbing her with scissors," Ruvin wrote. "Williams also admitted to transporting the body to" the District.

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