Each of the three times Lamore S. Rowe had stood trial in the 1994 slaying of a Springfield man during a botched robbery, the proceedings ended in mistrials. Yesterday, in the middle of his fourth trial, Rowe, 25, accepted a plea bargain on a charge of second-degree murder.
Rowe's plea came after two mistrials and a hung jury, in which the jury deliberated for parts of four days but couldn't reach a verdict. As part of yesterday's agreement with prosecutors, Rowe, a D.C. resident, entered Alford pleas, in which he did not admit guilt but acknowledged that the evidence could convict him. Rowe had been charged with both second-degree murder and illegal use of a firearm.
The agreement called for a sentence of 13 years, which Fairfax County Circuit Judge Dennis J. Smith imposed.
On Monday, prosecutors had launched their fourth attempt this year to convict Rowe of the Oct. 12, 1994, shooting of Joseph A. Robles, 23, fatally wounded inside his house in the 7200 block of Neuman Street. Robles had been the only National Merit Scholar in his 1989 graduating class at Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, but he disdained a full scholarship to Virginia Tech in order to stay in Northern Virginia, where he became a mid-level dealer of marijuana and other drugs, according to trial testimony.
Fairfax County police and prosecutors worked doggedly to solve the case. The star witness against Rowe disappeared on two occasions. And then there were the mistrials.
Now, two of the three men authorities believe are responsible for Robles' death have been convicted: Rowe and Kerry A. Jefferson, 26, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and testified that he was the getaway driver. A third suspect, Roger B. Vincent, 23, remains at large.
Jefferson told detectives that he had driven Rowe and Vincent to Springfield that morning, where the two men planned to rob Robles. Jefferson told authorities he had stayed in the van as the rip-off went sour.
Jefferson was arrested within minutes of the shooting as he drove confusedly through Springfield. He initially identified two other men as the shooters, was released on bond and fled. After Robles died, Jefferson's charge was increased to murder, but when he was captured in 1997, he was mistakenly released on his original bond. He fled again. When he was captured in Ohio in June 1998, he named Rowe and Vincent as the gunmen.
By that time, Rowe was in prison on an earlier manslaughter conviction in the District. Once he was paroled, he faced trial in Fairfax County in Robles' slaying. His first trial in June ended in a mistrial when a witness made reference to his earlier case, and his second trial later that month was halted after several days when Circuit Court Judge Arthur B. Vieregg ruled that mistakes were made in selecting the jury.
Following the hung jury in the third trial in October, Rowe tried to accept a plea deal, but Vieregg wouldn't accept the plea. Vieregg then recused himself from hearing the case a fourth time, and Smith stepped in.
James G. Connell, Rowe's attorney, said that "although Mr. Rowe is innocent of the charges, he decided to plead guilty to avoid the risk that the jury would find him guilty and sentence him to life in prison."