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  Motive for Teen's Slaying a Mystery

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 20, 1997; Page B05

Three months after the slaying and dismemberment of Silver Spring teenager Alfredo Enrique Tello, Montgomery County investigators still haven't identified an alleged motive for the killing but believe the most likely explanation is that an adolescent disagreement escalated to homicide.

An intensive probe has focused on the relationship between Tello and the two youths accused of the crime, Samuel Sheinbein and Aaron Needle, both 17.

The three had an immature relationship and sometimes hurled ethnic epithets at each other, according to law enforcement and other sources. Occasionally those episodes would erupt into fighting and shoving and then quickly end.

Investigators think it is possible that one such fight – over what, no one is certain – may have spun out of control. "It could be as simple as that," said a law enforcement source.

However, investigators acknowledge that they do not have a clear picture of what prompted the killing. They have been frustrated in part by their inability to question Sheinbein, who fled to Israel after the crime and is fighting Montgomery's efforts to extradite him to the United States to stand trial.

"We just have not come up with a firm motive for the whole incident," said Lt. Mike Garvey, head of the major crime division.

A senior law enforcement source said investigators may never know exactly what happened. "The motive was murder," he said. "There's not going to be a [conventional] motive."

Michael Statham, Needle's lawyer, said, "I don't know that we're going to find a traditional motive."

Needle, of Rockville, is being held without bond at the county jail and is scheduled to be tried April 20. Sheinbein remains in custody in Israel, where a three-judge panel is to begin hearing the extradition case in Jerusalem on Feb. 22.

The badly burned body of Tello, 19, minus his arms and legs, was found wrapped in a garbage bag in the garage of a vacant house in the Aspen Hill section of Silver Spring on Sept. 19.

Sheinbein and Needle were longtime friends and schoolmates with a history of drug problems. Last summer, they began hanging out with Tello, a happy-go-lucky youth and budding artist, who also used drugs.

Statham said the scenario of a routine dispute that escalated is "clearly something that's being looked at" by prosecutors and police. Name-calling "clearly is something that runs through the relationship these kids had," Statham said.

"That's a very dangerous way to relate to people," Statham added. "It's especially a dangerous way for young people to relate to each other."

Statham has been wading through 1,000 pages of pretrial documents, including grand jury transcripts, police reports, interviews, statements, autopsy reports and photographs provided to him as Needle's lawyer. "It makes nothing crystal-clear, nothing at all," he said.

He said the material shows prosecutors have many questions about the motive and continue to examine whether drugs may have been involved. But Statham said Needle has denied drugs may have been a factor.

Needle continues to assert that he did not kill Tello, Statham said. But the attorney acknowledged that prosecutors have evidence that may point to Needle's involvement after the fact.

"The two most important pieces of circumstantial evidence they have is that my client and Mr. Sheinbein were the last ones seen with Mr. Tello, and in all likelihood, my client and Mr. Sheinbein were seen several nights later toting a body," said Statham. "What happened in between is, to me, always going to be a matter of speculation."

Sheinbein's attorneys in Israel have asserted that Tello was killed in self-defense after trying to rob the other teenagers. Prosecutors consider the claim "preposterous," according to a law enforcement source, pointing to autopsy results that show Tello died from multiple causes, including blows to the head, strangulation and the cutting of his neck and chest.

"I don't think anyone in the state's attorney's office is buying that one," said Paul Stein, a Montgomery County attorney for the Sheinbein family, of the self-defense claim. He has said that if Sheinbein is tried in the United States, a plea of insanity is likely.

Statham said a possible key to the slaying may lie in understanding the relationship of the three youths. "Was this an unusual relationship for two Jewish kids and one Hispanic kid to have?" he asked. "What brought them together? Maybe Freddy Tello offered these kids a different perspective. Maybe they were all social outcasts in their respective groups."

Another mystery remains about the whereabouts of Tello's limbs, which police have not located. "As time goes on, the likelihood they'll be found diminishes," said a law enforcement source.

Prosecutors say that Sheinbein and Needle can be successfully prosecuted without establishing a motive and that they have developed physical and circumstantial evidence that will prove the cases. "Not having a motive is not vital to the case," said State's Attorney Robert L. Dean (D).

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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