A man arrested in the stabbing death of an artist who was found tied up in her basement apartment on Capitol Hill did not know the victim, according to D.C. police, while court documents suggest she may have been targeted in a robbery.
The suspect, El Hadji Alpha Madiou Toure, 28, was apprehended Monday on Hamlin Street in Brookland. Police described him as homeless and living in District shelters, although he had a Maryland driver’s license and appears to have family living in Laurel.
At the time of his arrest he was wanted on a charge of violating probation in a robbery conviction in Tennessee, and he has an extensive criminal record in Georgia with convictions for making a terrorist threat, assault and robbery.
Toure was charged in the District with first-degree murder while armed and theft in the death of Corrina Mehiel, 34, whose body was found the afternoon of March 21 in a back room of a rowhouse in the 600 block of 14th Street NE, near the H Street corridor. She lived in North Carolina but had been in the District for months as she worked on an exhibit at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design.
“We’re relieved a man is in custody,” said the victim’s stepmother, Lari Mehiel, 58, who lives in Seattle. A memorial service was held Sunday in Glenville, Pa., near the Hanover home of her maternal grandparents.
Toure appeared in D.C. Superior Court on Tuesday with his ankles and wrists in shackles and wearing a white plastic jumpsuit. A judge ordered him jailed until his next hearing April 11.
Toure’s attorney, Jacqueline Cadman of the Public Defender Service, argued that her client was innocent. “There is no evidence Mr. Toure committed this murder,” Cadman said. She said it was a “huge jump” to link Toure with the killing “just because stolen property may have been found on him.”
Cadman said that there was no murder weapon found, no eyewitness and no injuries to Toure.
“Mr. Toure was not in that apartment and he did not kill the decedent,” she said.
Although robbery remains a possible motive, police say other motives remain under investigation. An arrest affidavit filed in D.C. Superior Court quotes an acquaintance of the suspect telling another person that the defendant “was trying to rob the woman, but was not trying to kill her.”
The affidavit says Toure used Mehiel’s Toyota Prius and repeatedly withdrew money, using her bank card, in increments of $400, $500 and $800 in Maryland and the District. Police said they found paperwork with the suspect showing that he had purchased a Ford Taurus on March 24, the day after Mehiel disappeared, and had made a $1,000 down payment.
Police have said Mehiel was at the Corcoran on Sunday, March 19, then went to a dinner party with well-known artist Mel Chin at his apartment in Foggy Bottom. Mehiel texted her boyfriend at 1:24 a.m. on Monday.
She was to leave for home in Burnsville, N.C., later that day.
Is is unclear when the attack occurred, although video from a home surveillance system shows the suspect standing in front of Mehiel’s home and near her car at 10:13 a.m. Monday, and a man that fits the suspect’s description driving her car at 12:57 p.m., according to the affidavit. The affidavit does not say how the attacker got inside the apartment, although police have said there were no signs of forced entry.
Police went to the home about 4:15 p.m. after Mehiel had not returned home to North Carolina as expected and her father could not reach her. A police report says she was found tied with bedding and clothing.
The affidavit describes a gruesome scene inside the house. Mehiel had been stabbed in the neck and repeatedly in the body, and a detective wrote that the number of wounds and their severity “suggest some sort of torture had been done to the decedent.” Police also said the victim had defensive wounds on her left hand and palm indicating a struggle.
Detectives were eventually able to track the suspect’s movements using surveillance video from private homes on the victim’s block, moving Metro buses as they rolled by Mehiel’s house and electronic license-plate readers. The affidavit says police were able to identify Toure’s SmarTrip card number as he entered and left subway stations, and learned of locations where he allegedly withdrew money in College Park, Beltsville, Elkridge and Hyattsville.
Police said they found Mehiel’s Toyota Prius on March 23 in the 700 block of Irving Street NE, where it appears to have been abandoned and given a parking ticket. Authorities also released two sets of surveillance photos of a person of interest, who they confirmed on Tuesday is the man they arrested.
D.C. interim police chief Peter Newsham, who is awaiting confirmation, said at a news conference that “right now, we do not have a strong motive in the case. We don’t have any information to suggest that the victim knew the suspect.” He also said there is no evidence the victim was sexually assaulted. Newsham credited the arrest to “a tip from the community that was instrumental in closing the case.”
Police initially held Toure on the arrest warrant from Tennessee.
James E. Bradford Jr., a spokesman for the sheriff's office in Bradley County, Tenn., said Toure pleaded guilty in October 2006 under his birth name, Ellie Brown, to two counts of robbery. He was sentenced to eight years in prison and served one year before being released on probation. A warrant charging him with violating the terms of his probation was filed Thursday.
Dana Hedgpeth, Magda Jean-Louis and Lynh Bui contributed to this report.