A Northwest Washington man was convicted in D.C. Superior Court yesterday of murdering popular Georgia Avenue merchant Carl Lane after prosecutors claimed the assailant was a homosexual partner of an employe dismissed by Lane.
Lane, longtime owner of York Haberdasher at 3608 Georgia Ave. NW, was gunned down last Jan. 14 in a parking lot next to the store.
The reason for the shooting puzzled police at first, but prosecutors contended in this week's murder trial that Lane was shot to death by Perry Elijah, 28, in retaliation for the dismissal of store employe John Robinson, a transvestite and homosexual friend of Elijah. s
The Superior Court jury found Elijah guilty of first-degree murder yesterday after deliberating about one hour.
Lane had accused Robinson of stealing women's clothing from the store, prosecutors said at the trial. Robinson, on parole for a prior criminal offense, feared he would be sent back to prison if Lane pressed shoplifting charges against him as he had threatened, according to prosecutors. Elijah, Robinson's close friend, then carried out the murder to stop Lane, prosecutors said.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Gordon, Lane met with both Robinson and Elijah at the store four days before the murder and told Robinson he planned to press the shoplifting charge.
As Elijah and Robinson left the meeting, Gordon said, Robinson pointed out Lane's car to Elijah, saying, "That's his car." Lane habitually parked his car in the lot next to his store.
Four days later, Lane telephoned the administrator of a Northwest halfway house called Shaw II where Robinson lived. He told the administrator that later that afternoon he planned to swear out a warrant for Robinson's arrest. The halfway house then informed Robinson.
At 6 p.m. that day, the store's closing time, Lane was walking to his car when he was shot twice. The first shot struck him in the head. The second deflected harmlessly off his glasses, which he was carrying in his hand.
Lane fell to the ground as his assailant, wearing a cap and a blue jacket that he later discarded, dashed off.
"This man," prosecutor Gordon said, pointing to Elijah in the courtroom, "brutally, coldly, calculatedly killed Carl Lane. Then he ran from justice."
He said, "Carl Lane was killed for nothing. He was killed to keep Robinson from going back to jail . . . and it didn't even do that." This was a reference to the fact that Robinson was sent back to jail for unrelated reasons several days after the Lane shooting.
Elijah's attorney, Ladd B. Leavens, of the Public Defender Service, argued that witnesses had misidentified Elijah as Lane's assailant. He also said Elijah and Robinson were only friends and did not share a homosexual relationship.
Elijah was also convicted yesterday of one charge of carrying a gun without a license. For the murder charge, Elijah could receive a sentence of 20 years to life imprisonment. On the handgun charge, he faces a possible sentence of 15 years to life, an unusualy heavy penalty that could be imposed because of his prior record.
Lane, who operated York Haberdasher for 30 years, attracted many of the city's poor as well as prominent sports and civic figures. Lane was described by many of his customers as a gentle, kindly man who often gave credit on faith and handshakes.
He was kept alive at the Washington Hospital Center by life support machinery for six days after he was shot. He died Jan. 21.
Lane's wife, Doris, now runs the haberdashery and was at work yesterday when she learned of the verdict in the murder trial. She said even with her husband's death, she had decided to keep the store open.
"I don't think I'd do it any other way," she said. "I suppose in its way, justice is done."