A Southeast Washington man who spent seven months in jail awaiting trial as the "jogger-robber" was freed yesterday after police said they had discovered strong evidence linking a man slain on Thursday with the series of unusual street robberies.
Larry Sylvester Knight, 27, a student at the University of the District of Columbia, was arrested in November and charged with seven of about 30 street robberies that were committed by a man who wore a blue jogging outfit and carried two handguns.
Knight was scheduled to stand trial Aug. 16 and would have remained in the D.C. Jail until then.
On Thursday, however, police shot and killed Rodney Darnell Hart, 19, within minutes after two persons reported being robbed by the jogger-robber, called that because he wore a jogging outfit while robbing persons in the early morning hours as they walked to work.
Most of the robberies had occurred in a seven-block area around Fort Stanton Park - a neighborhood east of the Anacosta River near the intersection of Suitland Parkway and Rte. I-295.
Police said yesterday that they are continuing an investigation of two murders in Southeast Washington last year that were believed to have been committed by the jogger-robber.
A search yesterday of Hart's apartment at 2652 Martin Luther King Ave. SE uncovered more than a dozen wrist watches and other possessions that had been taken from victims of the robber-jogger last year and last month police sources said.
Two witnesses who had previously identified Knight as the jogger-robber were taken to the D.C. Medical Examiner's office to see Hart's body. They told police that Hart looked more like the man who had robbed them.
Shortly afterward, William Herman, Knight's court-appointed attorney, appeared before D.C. Superior Court Judge Paul R. Webber III in an unscheduled hearing and asked that his client be released.
Webber released Knight on personal bond and set a hearing for June 8 to determine if any of the seven armed robbery charges against Knight should still be prosecuted.
When Knight learned that he would be released yesterday, his lawyer said Knight shouted joyfully, jumped up and down, then started running in circles around his cell.
His mother, Delores Knight, said later, "My heart just fell to the floor. I couldn't say nothing."
For seven months after Knight's arrest, there were no jogger-robberies, leading police to believe they had apprehended the right man.
Then, on May 10, a Southeast Washington man reported that he had been robbed at gunpoint by a man dressed in a jogger's outfit.
On May 16, the jogger-robber hit again; then again on May 22. On May 25, the robber struck twice. He robbed two people again on May 27. On May 28, there was another attack, and another on May 29.
Deputy Chief James K. Kelly, who took over command of the 7th District police station on May 10, said apprehending the jogger-robber became for him a top priority.
"Before I came down [to the 7th District] I heard that they had the jogger-robber locked up," Kelly said in an interview yesterday. "I checked the jail and they said he was still there. So I said we had better start this thing all over again."
By May 24, after an extensive analysis of the jogger robberies, a picture emerged of a young man who wore at least three different colored jogging suits and chose the early morning hours to hold up his victims, who were usually elderly or middleaged men on their way to work.
"It just didn't make sense," Kelly said. "He wasn't getting that much money. For the whole month of May he netted less that $100."
"When he saw an opportunity to strike, he did. He was very frustrated young man with a lot of hangups," Kelly said."The money must have been a small part of it. Near the end, he had started becoming more violent."
At a strategy meeting on Thursday of last week, city police decided to form a 25-member SWAT-style tactical unit with the mission of apprehending the jogger-robber.
The unit, which included 14 undercover officers, was assigned to stakeout position on Tuesday of this week.
When word reached the 7th District police station shortly after 5 a.m. Thursday that the jogger-robber had hit again, a helicopter, already in the immediate area, lifted off. Dogs and policemen formed a circle around the heavily wooded area around Suitland Parkway at Sheridan Road, and began to close in on the suspect.
Standing at the top of a grassy knoll behind the Ambassador apartments in the 2600 block of Sherida Road SE, Hart drew two guns as police surrounded him. He was shot and killed instantly.
"He had at least two chances to give himself up," Kelly said. "It was like he was in some Western movie. It was do or die to him."
Fort Stanton Park, the area where most of the robberies occurred, had been a real fort during the Civil War. It was several bunkers and Hart is believed by police to have hidden in them to elude apprehension.
When he was slain Thursday, he was wearing three jogging suits of different colors. Police theorized that Hart had worn several outfits while committing previous holdups and would take off one of them as he escaped in order to confuse police.
Kelly said Hart also attempted to trick police officers by telephoning in "officer-in-distress" calls before going out to commit robberies.
"He would send most of the force in one direction and go to work in other," Kelly said. "He seemed to have a pretty good understanding of police operations."
According to police sources, Hart had been arrested twice as a juvenile, for what they described as "relatively minor" offenses.
"He seemed to be a loner," Kelly said. "He was kind of ingenious but in a faulty sort of way."
According to William Herman, Larry Knight's attorney, Knight was first arrested in connection with the jogger-related armed robberies May 18, 1978. His photograph picked out of an array of police mug shots by two robbery victims. Five other victims later identified Knight in a police lineup.
Knight, who was released on personal recognizance after the first arrest, was arrested again Nov. 1 in connection with another jogger-related robbery.
After Knight's second arrest, Judge W. Byron Sorrell revoked a two-year probation he had given Knight after his Aug. 30 conviction for possession of a small quantity of the drup, PCP (phencyclidine), known on the street as "angel dust." Knight remained in D.C. Jail until his release yesterday.
"I was pretty bitter when I found out they were going to charge me and I would spend some time in jail," Knight said yesterday."But gradually, I was able to understand the law. And under the law, they had to put me in jail."
William C. Simpson, Knight's probation officer, said, "There was a lot of pressure in the community for police to arrest someone in the jogger-robber cases. Knight was an athlete and a regular jogger."
Before Knight was returned to his cell to await release yesterday, he was permitted to embrace his fiance, Rosharon Baker, who had waited in court all day to see him.
"They arrested him in November, shortly after he proposed marriage and put an engagement ring for me on layaway," said Baker.