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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

By Dan Morse  |  August 6, 2010; 4:01 PM ET
Categories:  Dan Morse , From the Courthouse , Montgomery  
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Yeah they figured these guys will be pointing the finger at each other from the word go, but what they don't understand is that all them will get at 30 years a piece.

Posted by: PublicEnemy1 | August 6, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

This "renown" Principal had issues that should have been known by the Authorities of the school system. A Principal who trolls for young men on the internet has no business being the Principal of any school.

Posted by: bobbo2 | August 6, 2010 8:48 PM | Report abuse

Let's remember that this happened right before DC CAS and it was reported that earlier on the night he was murdered, Betts told a friend that he was extremely stressed out about the test and wanted company.

It is sad that all of Rhee's nonstop pressure on test scores and cut throat rhetoric probably drove this guy to relieve his stress by calling a sex line and arranging for sex.

In another report today from Turque, it talks about school staff cheating on the DC CAS.

Some people will respond in the extreme with the constant drum beat of high stakes testing.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | August 6, 2010 9:45 PM | Report abuse

Not too many people care about alleged parasites named Alante, Deontra-Q, Sharif-T, & J J . 4 young adults who've evaded the D.C. justice system because of Apathy.
At one time the public was passionate about the plight of Brian Betts, the Un-Apathetic Principal who cared about his down-trodden under privileged inner-city youth students. But , now the public is showing Apathy towards an educator with unnatural sexual practices.
The whole story leaves most of the public with a bad taste in their mouths. Apathy comes when you can't relate too any of the players involved with this crime.

Posted by: JadedCynic | August 7, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

this is what happens when u meet thugs off a party line

Posted by: JeroRobson1 | August 7, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

@bobbo2 Please, his personal life has nothing to do with his career. How else is a gay man supposed to meet people in a straight world? He took a chance that unfortunately turned deadly, which is sad. I just wish that from this, DC Police would work harder to protecting the gay community and making them aware because [straight] men robbing and beating or even killing unsuspecting gay men is not uncommon.

Posted by: lulu202 | August 7, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Please don't blame the victim. It wasn't his fault. He made a big mistake by meeting someone over the phone and telling them where he lived, but he did not deserve to die for it.

Posted by: daisypuppie | August 10, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

I was one of Betts' former students and I appreciate those of you who take the time to read about him.

For those of you who didn't know him, you have no room to talk about anything! His former students got to know him both professionally and personally, and I speak for all of us who knew him.... do not disrespect someone that you do not know.

Posted by: piedpiper415 | August 11, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

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