Prince George's County prosecutors plan to dismiss murder and attempted murder charges today against Derrick Fenner, the former University of North Carolina football star who police had said was involved in a shootout over drug turf, sources familiar with the case said.
Prosecutors, who have been considering new information from county homicide investigators since last month, decided last week to dismiss the charges against Fenner and to make the announcement this morning at a previously scheduled pretrial hearing, according to two courthouse sources familiar with the meeting Wednesday afternoon.
The latest action in the case is another twist this year in the life of Fenner, who saw a promising collegiate football career grind to halt with his arrest in April on charges of possessing cocaine and transporting a handgun and then his arrest in June on charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder and using a handgun in the commission of a felony.
A year earlier, Fenner, a 1985 graduate of Oxon Hill High School who drove a $24,000 candy apple red BMW and wore what he said was a $1,500 gold necklace, had broken an Atlantic Coast Conference record when he rushed for 328 yards against the University of Virginia. The running back also had impressive games in 1986 against The Citadel, 216 yards, and the University of Maryland, 173 yards.
Fenner, 20, was indicted in June on charges of slaying Marcellus Leach, 19, who died of a gunshot wound to the head, and of attempting to kill a 17-year-old youth during a shooting rampage at the Kirkwood Apartments at 2717 Nicholson St., Hyattsville. Five others have been charged in the May 23 shootings.
The information presented to the grand jury that indicted Fenner was gathered by detectives with the Hyattsville police force, which initially led the investigation.
But county homicide detectives, who began investigating the shootings because other men charged with Fenner were suspects in county slayings, told prosecutors several weeks ago that they had determined that Fenner was not at the apartment complex when the shootings occurred. One county police source said that detectives have witnesses who can place Fenner elsewhere when the shooting spree started in a courtyard at the complex.
The prosecutors handling the case -- Assistant State's Attorneys Mary Scherstrom and Michelle Hotten -- referred questions to Alexis D. Revis, a spokeswoman for State's Attorney Alex Williams. Revis said that pretrial motions in the Fenner case were set for 9 a.m. today before Circuit Judge Jacob Levin.
Fred R. Joseph, one of Fenner's attorneys who met with prosecutors Wednesday, said he could neither confirm nor deny that charges against his client will be dismissed. Fenner, who has maintained his innocence throughout the murder investigation, could not be reached for comment.
Dismissal of the charges would not affect the drug and handgun charges brought after a county officer stopped Fenner in April and allegedly found 25 bags with traces of cocaine in his jacket and a handgun under the driver's seat.
Fenner had been suspended from the university in fall 1986 for academic problems but was enrolled in summer school when he was charged in the shootings.
Hyattsville police issued an arrest warrant charging Fenner with first-degree murder in June based on information from two people who told Hyattsville detectives that they saw a small group of men -- including Fenner -- carrying handguns enter a courtyard at the Kirkwood Apartments on May 23.
The night before, police said, Fenner, Tyrone Anthony Davis and Robert Lewis, Fenner's roommate, were walking around the grounds at the Kirkwood Apartments when a man shouted to the trio, "You don't belong here," while waving what appeared to be a handgun at them.
According to the statement of charges against Davis, who is charged with first-degree murder in the shootings, Davis yelled, "We'll be back." Davis told Fenner and Lewis, according to the statement, that he "was calling Lorenzo so they could go back out there."
On May 30 and 31, according to court documents, Fenner told Hyattsville police about the shootings based on information Fenner said was given to him by four men, all of whom eventually were charged in the case.
Fenner told Hyattsville detectives that he was not involved in the shootings, one source said, but he gave false information about his whereabouts and persuaded another person to lie to police.
Based on witnesses' identification of Fenner, his knowledge of the incident, his presence at the scene the night before the shootings and his initial statements, Fenner was arrested, charged with murder and later indicted.
In early June, when Fenner decided to tell Hyattsville police the truth about where he was when the shootings occurred, a source said, the police did not believe him because of his earlier story.
Five men -- Davis, 21, of Marcy Avenue in Oxon Hill; Lorenzo Hazel, 20; Warren Alonzo Ransford, 22; Russell Eric Hughes, 21; and Richard Henry Day, 31 -- all were indicted on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder and weapons charges stemming from the shootings.