A 14-year-old youth charged in the fatal August shooting of a construction worker in Northeast Washington was on probation at the time of the shooting and had five prior contacts with the juvenile justice system, prosecutors said at a court hearing Thursday.
The teen is charged with first-degree felony murder while armed in the shooting of Balmore Mauricio Fuentes, a 34-year-old construction worker who was the crew chief at the site of eight rowhouses in the Trinidad neighborhood near Gallaudet University.
District prosecutors charged the teen as a juvenile. The Washington Post generally does not identify suspects charged in juvenile court.
Court officials allowed The Post to attend the D.C. hearing, which would usually be closed to the public, with the condition that the teen charged not be named.
During the three-hour hearing, prosecutors argued the teen was a danger and said he was with another person when he approached Fuentes and a co-worker and demanded money.
Police say Fuentes was shot in the head in what they are investigating as an attempted robbery at around 1:45 p.m. Aug. 23. The shooting occurred in an alley behind Fuentes’ latest renovation project: a two-story rowhouse in the 1100 block of Oates Street NE.
The co-worker told police one of the assailants had a gun and that the 14-year-old pointed at Fuentes’s pockets during the attempted robbery, D.C. homicide detective Stephanie Garner said.
Fuentes’ co-worker said Fuentes interceded and lunged at the weapon before it fired once.
“The victim died trying to save his colleague,” prosecutor Scott Leighton said in the hearing for the teen.
The youth’s attorneys William Alley and Lilian Fabela Miller of the District’s Public Defender Service said there was no evidence their client was present at the time of the shooting.
At the hearing, Garner testified that a security camera near the location captured the audio of the attack but not the scene because of the camera’s positioning. Garner said officers could hear one assailant yelling at Fuentes twice to “give me your wallet.”
Fuentes responded, “I don’t have anything,” the detective testified.
After the shooting, the teen and the other second assailant ran out of the alley. A video camera captured the running teen sprinting to the right out of the alley and the second person veering left. The co-worker told police that he watched the shooter run to the left, Garner testified.
A police officer, who had been parked in a squad car close to the alley where the shooting occurred, told detectives he had seen the youth and the other suspect enter the alley minutes before the shooting and recognized the teen by name from prior exchanges with him.
Garner, the homicide detective, recounted the officer’s statement in court and also testified that the youth’s probation officer identified him by name after watching the video that showed the two people running from the alley after the sound of a gunshot.
The gun used to shoot Fuentes was found at the scene, prosecutors said in court.
When detectives searched the Northeast home of the teen, they found a bright blue polo shirt and red sneakers, which is the clothing description the police officer and probation officer both relayed as having been worn by the teen at the time of the shooting.
The teen was arrested Wednesday.
During the hearing, the slight teen, wearing a Penn State hoodie, khaki pants and white Nike sneakers, often bit his fingernails as he sat with his attorneys. His parents were in court for part of the proceeding but were not permitted in during testimony.
The attorneys for the youth said the co-worker had told police the two attackers were between the ages of 19 and 20, had not identified their client as one of those and did not say it was the teen who had pointed to Fuentes’s pockets in his initial interviews with police.
The defense team also said that even if their client was present at the time of the shooting, he had not fired the weapon and did not know the other assailant was armed and planned a robbery.
Prosecutor Janeese Lewis said that based on the teen’s prior arrests, he was dangerous and should not be allowed to return home or be placed in a youth home.
Details of the teen’s previous arrests were not discussed in open court because he is a juvenile. Lewis said that in the youth’s previous cases, the court offered him two diversion programs that enabled him to avoid being detained. But, the prosecutor said, she feared the youth’s conduct was becoming more violent.
“He has prior assaultive conduct that has increased to the most serious assaultive nature — a death,” Lewis said.
Magistrate Judge Sherry Moore Trafford ordered the teen remanded to the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. The teen’s next hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
Michael Miller contributed to this report.