Petition targets law ending death penalty

A new battle has begun over the future of Maryland’s death penalty — soon after Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signed a bill abolishing capital punishment. said Friday that it would lead an effort to gather enough signatures to force a public vote next year on the law. If it gathers 55,736 valid signatures by June 30, the repeal law will be put on hold pending a statewide vote in November 2014.

One-third of those signatures must be turned in by the end of May.

Supporters of the repeal law promptly vowed that they would work to keep it on the books.

“Make no mistake,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP. “If this goes to referendum, the NAACP and countless allies throughout Maryland will be there to fight.”

— John Wagner

10 houses in McLean are hit by burglaries

Burglars forced their way into 10 homes in the McLean area Friday and swiped cash, jewelry and electronics, and police are investigating the possibility that the same people might have been responsible for other area break-ins in the past, authorities said.

Police said they are looking for at least two people who are part of the “same crew” that broke into all 10 homes Friday.

Police described the two as a white man and a white woman in their 30s who were driving a pickup truck or El Camino-style vehicle.

The incidents occurred between 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Strata Street, Sawyer Place, Barbee Street, Powhatan Street, Wise Street, Poole Lane, Dalmation Drive and Mulroy Street, authorities said.

Officer Bud Walker, a Fairfax County police spokesman, said the break-ins occurred when residents were not at home, although a witness was able to spot the man and woman in at least one case.

He said detectives were combing through old cases to determined whether there were any connections.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Solvers at 866-411-TIPS.

— Matt Zapotosky

Rotting tree falls; 2 in hammock hurt

A 5-year-old boy and his grandmother were seriously hurt after a rotting tree fell on them as they lounged in a hammock in the backyard of a Loudoun County home Saturday.

The boy and his grandmother were airlifted to a hospital after the tree fell, which happened just before 1:30 p.m. at the home in the 1900 block of East Beech Road in the Sterling area, police said. The boy’s injuries, police said, were critical and life-threatening, and the grandmother’s injuries were serious but not life- threatening.

Liz Mills, a spokeswoman for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, said the two were lounging in a hammock attached to the tree when it fell on top of both of them.

She said the tree, which was 12 to 18 inches in diameter, was old and rotted.

— Matt Zapotosky

‘Suspicious’ incident ends in horse deaths

One horse was found dead and another so severely injured that it had to be euthanized in a field at a Nokesville farm, and police said they are investigating the case as “suspicious.”

Someone at the farm near Vint Hill Road tipped police to the incident, which occurred between 6 and 7 a.m. Friday, police said. They said a 10-year-old thoroughbred-cross mare was found dead in the field and a quarter horse gelding palomino had severe injuries.

Sgt. Kim Chinn, a Prince William County Police spokeswoman, declined to detail the injuries the horses suffered, but she said that they were “not typical” of what horses might do to one another.

She said investigators were unsure whether a crime had occurred or whether the horses might have been attacked by another animal.

Chinn said the horses were not kept for racing but for pleasure and shows. She declined to name the farm where the incident occurred, citing “security” concerns.

— Matt Zapotosky

Police find two men severely injured

Two men were found severely wounded inside a work van in Alexandria, and detectives are trying to determine how they got there.

Someone who spotted the men inside the van tipped police to the 500 block of Four Mile Road about 6 p.m. Friday, said Ashley Hildebrandt, an Alexandria police spokeswoman.

The men “weren’t shot,” she said. “They were just severely hurt.” She added that detectives were seeking to determine the exact nature of their wounds.

Police said both men were hospitalized with injuries considered life-threatening.

— Matt Zapotosky