Sheinbein's 'Recipe for Murder' |
By Katherine Shaver
Although the teenager's lawyers say he will be sentenced at a later hearing, today's proceeding effectively will close the case without a jury or the public getting a full account of what investigators believe happened before Alfredo Enrique Tello Jr.'s charred and dismembered body was wrapped in trash bags and dumped in a Wheaton garage.
Montgomery County prosecutors, who spent almost two years preparing for what they assumed would someday be a trial, agreed to open their files and give a detailed account of the brutal story beneath the facts that Sheinbein will admit.
Sheinbein's plea, however, may leave unanswered perhaps the biggest question about the case: What prompted two middle-class suburban teenagers to kill a friend (or at least an acquaintance) in such a cruel manner that the real estate agent who discovered the mutilated body in a vacant garage initially thought it was the carcass of a deer?
Eitan Maoz, one of Sheinbein's Israeli lawyers, said yesterday that he still could not comment on the teenagers' reasons, saying only, "Any explanation that will be given should be given to the court, not to the press."
Even John McCarthy, the deputy Montgomery state's attorney who can easily recount the opening argument he will never give, said he might never be sure: "In the annals of Montgomery County, it's about as horrible a case as you get in terms of gruesomeness and what they did to the body. . . . I think they were damaged kids, but I don't know if we have a good explanation."
Tello and Aaron Needle had known each other about a year but began to hang out together more often in the summer of 1997. It was a loose friendship that seemed to benefit both.
Tello, who drove an old beat-up car, liked to drive Needle's gold 1989 Honda Accord around the Silver Spring and Wheaton neighborhoods, where they both lived. Friends told police that Needle thought Tello could get him marijuana or cocaine or at least introduce him to people who could.
Tello, who at 19 was working at a Rockville fish store, once referred to Needle as "friending" for drugs.
Needle, 17, meanwhile, spoke frequently of "my friend, Sam."
Sheinbein, also 17 and a high school senior at the time, had his own problems. A young woman he was friends with--and on whom he had developed a crush--had begun to date someone else. Sheinbein offered a friend $5,000 to kill the young woman's new boyfriend or $1,000 to lure him into a car, where Sheinbein would have altered the locks so his victim couldn't get out, McCarthy said. The friend refused, later telling friends he thought Sheinbein was joking.
Others weren't so sure. One young woman told police that the same teenager Sheinbein allegedly had solicited to commit murder had told her about another conversation with Sheinbein.
Sheinbein had asked, "Do you want to rape a girl?" and then suggested that the other teenager try to twist the inside knob of his bedroom door. It wouldn't open.
"It doesn't open, so she can't get out," Sheinbein told him.
Sheinbein also showed that friend what prosecutors now call his "Recipe for Murder." On a single sheet of notebook paper, was written "Zap, pepper, metal restraints, rainsuits . . . X-acto hobby knife, plastic bags" and other items. It listed the Dujitsu 2000 knife and had a check mark next to "recommended by Consumer Reports."
It also listed size 14 shoes. Sheinbein and Needle both wore about a size 10, McCarthy said.
"If they don't fit, u must acquit," the note said, echoing lawyer Johnnie Cochran's line to the jury about the glove fitting too snuggly on O.J. Simpson's hand.
In September 1997, McCarthy said, while Sheinbein was looking for someone else to kill as "practice" for eliminating his romantic rival, Needle and Tello got into an argument, and Tello punched Needle in front of a fellow Montgomery Community College student on whom Needle had a crush.
Sheinbein wanted a victim, according to prosecutors, and, suddenly, Needle had one for him, McCarthy said.
Hannah Choi, the object of Needle's affections, later told police she met Needle for the first time on Sept. 9, 1997, and he had told her she was the "hottest" woman in their broadcasting class at Montgomery College. She told police that she didn't return his attention.
The next day, she told police, she joined Needle, Tello, and two other women in Needle's car to look for cigarettes.
During the trip, Tello and Needle began to exchange racial slurs about Tello's being Latino and Needle's being Jewish. Suddenly, Tello turned around and punched Needle, then got out of the car and punched him some more. The women giggled.
Needle got "really quiet," Choi told police, and, looking embarrassed, dialed his cell phone. She said he laughed into the phone as if to shrug off the fact that he had just been punched in front of her.
When she asked Needle to whom he was talking, he answered, "My friend, Sam."
On Sept. 16, 1997, Choi told police, she paged Tello. He called back about 4:50 p.m. as he was finishing up work at the fish store. Tello said he had talked to Needle, who had told him that Sheinbein had the house to himself. Sheinbein's parents were out of town, Tello told her, and they could all go over there to drink.
At 6:30 p.m., Tello spoke on his cell phone with one of Choi's friends.
"He said he was with two friends," McCarthy said. "And that he'd meet her at 7 p.m. at the [Plaza] del Mercado," a shopping center in Wheaton.
He never showed.
Tello's co-workers would have testified that both Sheinbein and Needle showed up at the fish store, McCarthy said.
"We have some plans," one of the two told Tello. "We've gotta go now."
McCarthy says he and fellow prosecutor James Trusty don't know for certain when and where Tello was killed.
Sheinbein told his older brother, Robert, that he, Tello and Needle had stopped at a 7-Eleven store in Wheaton. Sheinbein said he and Tello stayed in the car while Needle went inside. When Needle returned, Sheinbein said, Tello tried to rob him, and Sheinbein, protecting his friend, strangled Tello while Needle punched him.
But McCarthy says that's an unlikely scenario. He said Tello probably was disabled or killed sometime before 7 p.m., the time he was supposed to meet his friends. If such an altercation had occurred in the parking lot of a convenience store near one of Montgomery's busiest intersections, someone would have seen it, McCarthy said.
He said Tello was probably disabled with a stun gun and then strangled with a rope while in Needle's Honda, but he apparently was beaten in the head with the butt of a sawed off shotgun and cut on the chest somewhere else. Neither Needle's Honda nor Sheinbein's Pontiac Firebird showed any traces of blood.
There also was relatively little blood found in either the Sheinbein's garage, where prosecutors believe Tello's body was cut up and burned, or in the garage of the vacant home where it was dumped beneath black, plastic Hefty bags.
A police dog specially trained in sniffing out bodies picked up a scent in the Sheinbein's garage and sniffed down the driveway and along a gutter before losing the scent at a drainage ditch, McCarthy said.
McCarthy's theory: Sheinbein and Needle hosed off the garage, and the dog picked up the lingering scent of the blood that would have washed down the driveway, perhaps at night while the neighbors slept.
At 10:15 a.m. on Sept. 19, a real estate agent, checking on a house with a "Sold" sign in front noticed that the front door lock had been tampered with. When he got inside, McCarthy said, a foul stench led straight to the garage.
He drew back the black, plastic garbage bags just enough to catch a glimpse. Montgomery patrol officers responded to a call for a "suspicious situation" in a vacant house.
Police photographs show a blackened form that is difficult to identify as human. Tello's limbs were never found. They were probably dumped in neighbors' garbage cans, McCarthy said.
By 8 that night, McCarthy said, police detectives were sitting in the Sheinbeins' living room, talking to Sol and Victoria Sheinbein about their son and his friend, Aaron Needle. Neither teenager could be located.
Two days later, both surfaced in New York City. They called their parents, saying they were in trouble and needed money to go to Israel, McCarthy said.
Needle's parents got him enough money for an Amtrak ticket to Union Station. Sheinbein's parents and brother, however, drove to Manhattan, met Samuel at an Exxon station and then drove him to John F. Kennedy airport with a plane ticket and a passport.
Needle committed suicide last year, hanging himself in his Montgomery County jail cell on the eve of his trial. Sheinbein, of course, never returned.
Israeli authorities found a two-page note in a Tel Aviv hotel room, where Sheinbein and his brother spent Samuel's last day of freedom. His brother had hired him a prostitute and bought him his first bottle of wine, McCarthy said.
Sheinbein's missive was widely believed to a suicide note. It stated that he had gone "beyond the lengths necessary" to protect himself.
"It's all just a bad coincidence," the note said, "that things turned out as bad as they did."
© 1999 The Washington Post Company