A D.C. Superior Court jury has convicted a Northeast Washington man of second-degree murder in the slaying of Daniel R. Holmes, the "Good Samaritan" Silver Hill grocer who was shot in December 1979 as he tried to retrieve a purse stolen from one of his customers.
Walter Jerome Mobley, 29, was also convicted Monday of assault with intent to kill while armed and carrying a pistol without a license. He faces up to a life sentence on the murder charge.
Holmes "died a hero's death," Assistant U.S. Attorney David W. Stanley told the jury in his closing arguments. Holmes was shot moments after wresting the stolen purse from Mobley, according to evidence introduced at the two-week trial.
Holmes, a community activist and a former letter carrier, operated his grocery store at 3201 Naylor Rd., Silver Hill, near the District of Columbia-Prince George's line. He was a popular man; about 400 mourners attended his funeral, where the minister praised Holmes as a hero who will be remembered because he died while trying to help a customer recover her stolen purse.
Early on the evening of Dec. 1, 1979, one of Holmes' elderly customers shouted that she had been robbed and frantically told Holmes, "You've got to stop him!" Holmes, who had just brought in fruit from the produce stand outside his store, jumped into his car with his stepson and chased the getaway car.
Meanwhile, Holmes' stepdaughter was also barreling down the road after the getaway car, which the government said was driven by Mobley's brother, Willie Evans Mobley, 27.
The getaway car was cornered at Stanton Road and Bruce Place SE in the District. Holmes jumped out and lunged for a man prosecutors say was Walter Mobley, who was sitting in the passenger seat of the getaway car. After grappline with the man and apparently retrieving the purse, Holmes was shot three times by Walter Mobley, prosecutor Stanley charged. Holmes' stepson, Paul Brown, was also wounded in the incident, while Walter Mobley was shot in his hand, apparently with his own gun.
Walter Mobley of 1108 Constitution Ave. NE was arrested by police at D.C. General Hospital, where he had sought treatment for his hand wound. Police arrested Willie Mobley the next day. Both Mobleys were charged with felony murder, killing during the commission of another felony crime. However, D.C. Superior Court Judge Fred B. Ugast declared a mistrial on Jan. 10 in Willie Mobley's case after a witness improperly quoted one of the two Mobleys implicating the other in the crime.
Walter Mobley's attorneys, Stephanie Duncan-Peters and Robert P. Mosteller, argued that Mobley had been the victim of a misidentification and that he had been elsewhere at the time of the shooting. They said that Mobley had been at a Northeast Washington used car lot that day, and that the bullet wound suffered by Mobly had occurred at a crap game.
Ugast instructed the jury that for them to find Mobley guilty of first-degree felony murder, the jury would have to conlcude that the felony committed at the time of the murder -- the theft of the purse -- was still going on when the shooting took place.
The defense contended that Holmes had retrieved the purse, thus ending the robbery, and therefore Mobley could not be convicted of felony murder, which carries a penalty of 20 years to life, compared to the 15-years-to-life penalty on the second-degree charge for which Mobley was convicted. Mobley was also charged with robbery in the incident, a charge that will be prosecuted by the Prince George's County state's attorney's office since the purse-snatching took place in Maryland before the chase into the District of Columbia.
Willie Evans Mobley of 3660 B St. SE will go on trial in Superior Court in March on the felony murder charge. Walter Mobley will be sentenced on March. 5.