The killer’s size quickly made Henry Chavez a prime suspect. How often - his own attorney pointed out this week - do you see a four-foot tall man running with a gun?
“There was no question about the identifications. They were positive ID’s,” Louis Martucci said.
Chavez has agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder on May 24 in last year’s slaying of Hamington Luis Ravanales Orozco, according to documents filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
Police say that the night of May 27, 2010, Chavez walked up to Orozco, who was sitting on a stoop outside an apartment building along Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, about 10 blocks north of the Capital beltway. Chavez shot Orozco three times in the head and fled, according to authorities. He eventually made his way to El Salvador, where he was captured, classified as an undesirable resident owing to his U.S. citizenship and brought back to Maryland, according to federal law enforcement officials.
A motive in the shooting remains unclear.
Martucci said his client’s memory of the night was clouded by the PCP he smoked in the hours before the shooting. As best as Chavez can recall, Martucci said, either the victim or someone near the victim made a crack about Chavez’s size. Chavez is listed as 3-foot, 11-inches tall and 4-feet tall in various court records.
“It’s been a source of frustration to him all his life,” Martucci said.
A Montgomery police spokesman declined to comment on Chavez’s motives, as did a spokesman for the Montgomery State’s Attorney’s office. A source with knowledge of the case said Chavez has links to the MS-13 gang, and that played a role in the shooting. Martucci denied that, saying the case “had nothing to do with any gang activity.”
Under the plea deal in the case, Chavez faces a maximum of 30 years in prison in the form of a “suspended” life sentencing, meaning he could get tossed back into the state prison system if he gets in trouble after release. On the other hand, if he behaves, holds a job or participates in programs behind bars, he can accrue “good time” credits. Violent offenders can rack up more than 10 days worth of good time a month, according to prison officials, meaning Chavez could be released within 20 years.
The plea deal is the latest twist in the case that began with calls broadcast over police radio just after the shooting that included “Hispanic midget” and “Possible Hispanic dwarf.” Although some people chafe at such terms, officers were trying to quickly disseminate descriptive information about a dangerous situation. When things calmed down and the department issued a press release, it stayed away from the terms and simply described Chavez by his height and weight: 3-foot, 11-inches tall, 85 pounds
He proved hard to catch. His stature, as it turned out, might have served him well. Agents who track fugitives say people who know they look different often take extra precautions, such as moving at night and, if getting in and our of cars, doing so inside garages.
“I actually think it makes it harder,” U.S. Marshal Robert Fernandez, commander of the Capital Area Regional Fugitive Task Force, said during the search. “He has to make a conscious effort to hide himself. He knows he’s going to stand out.”
Chavez was picked up in El Salvador in February. “From what we can gather, someone snitched on him,” said Martucci.
Salvadorian authorities classified him as a “undesirable” resident and moved to have him deported, said Bill Sorukas, chief of international investigations for the U.S. Marshalls Service. He was escorted out of the country by U.S. agents.
Chavez was born in the District, and grew up along Hobart Street in the Mt. Pleasant area, according to court records. He studied computer engineering, and has impressed court officials with his smarts. But by the fall of 2007, he was selling marijuana and crack cocaine, according to court records. He pleaded guilty to drug dealing, and was sentenced to 9 months, spending much of that stretch at a halfway house, according to court records.