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Suspect in Betts slaying pleads guilty

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By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 8, 2010; 7:54 PM

Hours before he was killed, well-known D.C. principal Brian K. Betts made plans with a stranger he met on a sex chat line: The front door of his Silver Spring home would be unlocked, the man was to let himself in and Betts would be waiting.

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Alante Saunders, 18 at the time, arrived at the house and went directly to Betts's upstairs bedroom, prosecutors said in court Monday, revealing new details in the case as Saunders pleaded guilty to felony murder charges.

Saunders found Betts in the bedroom, but his intention all along had been to rob the man.

Something went wrong and Saunders shot Betts, causing injuries to his lungs and spine.

Saunders, now 19, pleaded guilty to first-degree felony murder Monday. Under terms of a plea deal, he will be sentenced to 40 years in prison as part of a suspended life sentence. With good behavior, he could be released in 20 to 26 years, according to attorneys and prison officials.

Three additional suspects, all 19, remain charged with murder in the case, but prosecutors are close to plea deals of lesser charges with at least two of them, according to sources with knowledge of the proceedings.

In a case that generated much media attention because of Betts's work, it all came down to a robbery gone bad.

It was seven months ago, on the evening of April 14, that "Saunders went on a chat line, trolling for a victim" to rob, Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy said Monday.

Saunders made contact with Betts, 42, and the two continued their conversation. They made detailed plans to meet.

Saunders traveled to Betts's house with three acquaintances.

"Saunders went directly upstairs," Assistant State's Attorney Sherri Koch said in court. "At some point, others went into the house. When Saunders went upstairs, he brought a gun, and during the course of the robbery, he shot Betts."

Saunders's attorney, David Felsen, acknowledged that his client shot Betts but said it was an accident that occurred during a robbery. "Certainly no one deserved to die," Felsen said.

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