Four separate trials in Betts slaying
The trial of four teen-agers accused of killing renown principal Brian Betts -- which originally was scheduled to be conducted with all four at the same defense table -- will be broken into four cases, according to documents filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court this week.
The move indicates that prosecutors want to pit the defendants against each other, said David Felsen, an attorney for one of the suspects. But it may prove difficult to do, he said, because when the suspects spoke to detectives earlier this year, they gave inconsistent and conflicting statements.
"The statements are internally inconsistent, and inconsistent amongst themselves," said Felsen, who represents Alante Saunders, 18.
Prosecutors say that Saunders and three others -- Deontra Q. Gray, 18; Sharif T. Lancaster, 18; and Joel Johnson, 19 -- participated in the killing of Betts, 42, the principal at Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson in D.C. and one of the public faces of education reform efforts in the District.
Betts was found dead in his Silver Spring home April 15. Police say Betts met one of the suspects on a national phone sex chat line and the teenagers went there to rob him.
Lancaster's fingerprints were found in Betts's Silver Spring home, police said. Saunders's fingerprints were found on the inside and outside of a dark blue Nissan Xterra that was stolen from Betts's home and found abandoned in Southeast Washington, police said.
Barbara Graham, an attorney for Gray, said her client never went inside Betts's house.
"I think he knows these guys and he was with them at some point that night. He was absolutely not inside the house," Graham said Friday.
Defense attorneys first asked that the case be broken up. Prosecutors consented to the request this week.
Graham said the pretrial maneuvering was standard.
"All it means is they [prosecutors] intend to use every co-defendant's statement," she said.
She agreed with Felsen that the statements are inconsistent, but said she didn't know how much that would affect the case.
"It could. But it's really too early to tell," she said.
Montgomery state's attorney John McCarthy said it would be inappropriate for him to describe how his prosecutors will try the case. But he said that as a matter of law, it was appropriate to break up the trial.
Catherine Woolley, an attorney for Johnson, said prosecutors made an appropriate, legal decision. She declined to comment further.
Alan Drew, an attorney for Lancaster, also declined to discuss the specifics of the case, but said this of prosecutors decision to sever the cases. "It's my opinion, they had not choice, legally, if they wanted to use the statements."
-- Dan Morse
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