The top prosecutor of Prince George's County is seeking the death penalty against the man accused of fatally shooting police Sgt. Steven Gaughan during a traffic stop in June.
State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey filed his intent to seek a death sentence yesterday in Circuit Court, the second time in his tenure he has proceeded with a capital case. The previous case, in 2003, involved a man who killed two county sheriff's deputies, though that case did not result in a death sentence.
In the killing of Gaughan, Robert M. Billett, 43, of Bladensburg is charged with first-degree murder and other counts. He would be eligible for the death penalty for two reasons: He is charged with killing a police officer in the line of duty, and he is accused of doing so while trying to escape arrest.
Police said Billett used a .40-caliber handgun to shoot Gaughan as the officer chased him on foot at a Laurel apartment complex June 21.
"He killed a police officer who was performing his official duties," said Ivey, who took office in 2002.
Billett, who has a history of drug and assault charges in the United States and his native Jamaica, is also charged with shooting at two other officers during the incident. Michael Eubanks and Shawn Phoebus returned fire, hitting Billett in the arm, leg and side, according to police.
Billett's attorney, public defender Janet Hart, gave some insight yesterday into her defense strategy by saying she does not believe the case qualifies for the death penalty.
"We do not believe that this is a first-degree murder case," Hart said. "As such, the death penalty would be inapplicable."
She declined to be more specific.
Detectives said they recovered a weapon at the scene and identified it as the one used to kill Gaughan.
Gaughan, 41, was a 15-year veteran of the force. He and his wife had recently adopted two children from Russia. Gaughan came from a police family, with a father and three uncles who were officers in Boston.
Police Chief Melvin C. High said in an interview yesterday that he was pleased with Ivey's decision. He said it sends the message that people "cannot just go out and assault and kill a police officer."
"Whenever one officer falls, it is as if each of us has been struck," High said. "This is in the end about justice -- ensuring justice for Sgt. Gaughan and for the police officers and for the community."
Percy Alston, president of the Prince George's police union, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, said the department continues to be in close contact with the Gaughan family.
"I am confident the state's attorney's office will be able to obtain a conviction in this case," Alston said. "We will remove this animal from the streets of Prince George's County."
Lt. John Hipps, who has been speaking for the Gaughan family, said the family is doing as well as can be expected. "All of us are still in a state of shock over this," he said.
Ivey previously asked for the death penalty for James R. Logan, who burst out of a bedroom in his parents' home in Adelphi and shot county sheriff's deputies Elizabeth L. Magruder, 30, and James V. Arnaud, 53. Logan was sentenced to 100 years in prison, but an appellate court last month ordered a new trial for him.