String of slayings continues in Md.

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 12, 2011; A01

A University of Maryland student killed during a drug-related robbery Tuesday became the 11th homicide victim in Prince George's County in as many days this year, putting added pressure on the police department to come up with a way to stop the violence.

A 12th killing occurred Tuesday night when an occupant of a house in the Lanham-New Carrollton area shot an intruder who was trying to break in, county police said. But they said that based on preliminary reports, the killing appeared to be justifiable, carried out in self-defense.

The 11 other slayings since New Year's Day appear to be isolated and mostly unconnected to one another, making the situation even more difficult for police. New County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and the County Council also are scrambling to respond to the killings.

Officials continue to stress that those slayings are not random and that people are not in any added danger.

At least nine of the victims in the first 11 killings were specifically targeted by their killers, police said. Six of those crimes were drug-related. One involved a child-custody dispute, and one is believed to have stemmed from a personal argument. Another is somewhat of a mystery, although investigators have evidence that the victim knew his attacker.

"It's . . . important for folks to know that the lifestyle of these victims has greatly contributed to where they are in life," said Deputy Police Chief Kevin Davis.

Police believe that one of the remaining cases is a gang attack on an innocent victim and the other is probably linked to gangs or a personal dispute.

So far, police have made arrests in three of the slayings.

"To commanders and detectives, it's mystifying. . . . There's no common set of circumstances that we can go after," said Maj. Andrew Ellis, the department's public affairs commander. "If they were all drug-related, we could hit it with the drug angle. If they were all robbery-related, we could start combing our files for robbery suspects that had been recently released from jail. If it was a gang war, we could go after the gang leaders. And so the fact that it's disconnected makes it much more difficult to prevent."

The violence is even more confounding because homicides in Prince George's continued their five-year descent last year, hitting 98. Ellis said some detectives cannot remember a time when there has been such a consistent rate of killings.

"It's truly out of the ordinary," he said. "There's just no reasonable or logical explanation for the number of homicides that we've had since January 1st."

In the Tuesday night incident, which occurred about 8:40 p.m., police said it appeared initially that an occupant of a house in the 7400 block of Riverdale Road fired a shotgun as an intruder tried to force his way through the door.

Ellis said he was told that people in the house were screaming at the intruder to leave, "and he just kept coming."

"It appears that it's a clear case of self-defense," Ellis said.

A killing that is determined to be justifiable, although not considered a criminal act, is still defined as a homicide.

In Tuesday morning's killing, the 11th homicide of the year, police were called to a home in the 8800 block of 38th Avenue in Adelphi and found a 22-year-old U-Md. student with gunshot wounds. Ellis said investigators found enough marijuana in the home to lead them to think that the victim was selling it.

Law enforcement officials said the case appeared to be a drug robbery. "This is yet another non-random act of violence in Prince George's County," Davis said.

Davis said that the student, whom he declined to identify because his family had not yet been notified, rented the home with some others, who were inside during the attack. He said detectives were seeking a masked man and were interviewing the roommates about what they saw and heard.

Elected officials also are under pressure to respond to the homicides, and they delivered assurances Tuesday that they were offering police whatever resources they needed.

During the call-in "Ask the Executive" program on WTOP, Baker said he had met with the police chief, sheriff and state's attorney and was confident that "we're going to get a handle on this." He acknowledged that the number of police officers had not kept pace with population growth and said he planned to continue to fill recruit classes to keep more officers on the street.

Will Campos (D-Hyattsville), chairman of the council's public safety committee, said he planned to meet with interim Police Chief Mark Magaw. "We want to pinpoint why this is happening - whether it is drugs, gangs or something else - and take it from there," Campos said.

The police department already had assigned a major to coordinate special anti-violence efforts inside the Capital Beltway and ordered 19 detectives shifted to the criminal investigations and narcotics divisions. They announced arrests Tuesday in two homicides, bringing the number of 2011 cases closed to three.

Vincent Eugene Miles, 29, of Chillum and Neil Elmore Lawrence, 31, of District Heights were charged with first-degree murder in the Jan. 5 killing of 30-year-old Terrance Calvin Hunter, who was found shot to death in the stairwell of an apartment building in the 1300 block of Southview Drive in the Oxon Hill area. Authorities said the killing stemmed from a drug dispute.

Donte Douglas, 18, of Capitol Heights was charged with first-degree murder in the Jan. 8 slaying of Corteza Warren Livingston, 21. Livingston and his 24-year-old brother were shot during a custody dispute with the mother of the brother's child and some people with her, authorities have said. The brother is expected to survive, authorities said.

Also Tuesday, police identified the man who was killed Monday night after he was mistakenly considered a gang member outside a Shoppers grocery store in the Lewisdale area.

Authorities said Juan Moreno Aguilar, 25, of Langley Park, was stabbed to death and a 24-year-old companion stabbed and wounded. Ellis said the companion told investigators that the two were attacked randomly and that their attackers shouted, "Mara Salvatrucha!" - a gang reference.

Ellis said police had no information to suggest that the victims were involved in gangs, although detectives were still investigating. He said they were also exploring whether that case might be connected to the Jan. 8 stabbing death of a man just down the road, but they had not yet found any relationship.

Barry Schlossberg, the community affairs chairman for the Brookwood-Holloway Civic Association, said he is not scared for his own safety because the violence has not yet touched his neighborhood, but like any resident, he is concerned with "what's going on."

"We're just kind of waiting to see what the department's game plan is," he said. "The attitude I've always taken is it's going to take the police and the community to resolve this." Staff writers Martin Weil, Miranda S. Spivack and Ruben Castaneda and researcher Eddy Palanzo contributed to this report.

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