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Man pleads guilty in Betts slaying

By Dan Morse

Update, 2:25 p.m.:

Alante Saunders has pleaded guilty to first-degree felony murder in the shooting death of principal Brian Betts. The plea deal calls for a life sentence with all but 40 years suspended.

Saunders's attorney, David Felsen, said the shooting was accidental during the course of a robbery. "Certainly no one deserved to die," he said.

Prosecutors said in court that Saunders entered a sex chat line and made detailed plans with Betts for the principal to leave the door open so Saunders could come in.

"His true intent was to rob him," said Assistant State's Attorney Sherri Koch. "During the course of the robbery, he shot Betts."

Felsen said after the hearing: "Mr. Betts engaged in a series of reckless behaviors. Unfortunately his risky behaviors made him an easy target."

Original Post:

A 19-year-old District man described as the central figure in the slaying of school principal Brian Betts is expected to plead guilty to first-degree murder this afternoon, according to law enforcement sources.

Prosecutors continue to have discussions with other defendants in the case, although no deals have been reached with them, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations.


Saunders. (Montgomery Police)

Betts, the well-known and well-liked former principal of Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson, was killed inside his Silver Spring home in April. His death captured national attention because he had been a key figure in efforts to reform Washington D.C.'s schools.

Alante Saunders is due in court at 1:30 p.m. Monday, according to court records.

Police have said that a small group of people arrived at Betts's home late on an April night. At least one of them had talked earlier with Betts on sex chat line, officials said.

The other three defendants originally charged with murder in the case are Sharif Lancaster, 18 at the time of this arrest, Deontra Gray, 18 at the time of the arrest, and Joel Johnson, 19 at the time of the arrest.

One of he possible plea deals would have Saunders receiving a sentence of no more than 40 years in prison. It's unclear if that is what was finally negotiated between the two sides.

Saunders has reason to take the deal: His fingerprints were found on the inside and outside of an SUV that was stolen the night Betts was killed, court papers say. Store surveillance cameras captured images that appeared to be Saunders using Betts's stolen credit cards to make purchases, according to the papers.

But Saunders's attorney, David Felsen, also had leverage: When Saunders spoke to detectives, Saunders never admitted involvement in the slaying. His most incriminating statement -- that he knew about the credit cards -- would not have been allowed to be shown to jurors at trial, because of a judge's order last month that Saunders hadn't been properly read his rights to remain silent or have an attorney.

Felsen declined to comment on the case.

Under the proposed Saunders plea deal, he would technically receive a suspended, life sentence. He likely will not have to serve the full 40 years.

Under Maryland prison rules, he can collect "good time" credits based on taking classes, learning a trade and staying out of trouble. For Saunders particular sentence, though, he would not be allowed to cash in those credits for at least 20 years, according to prison officials.

(This post has been updated)

By Dan Morse  | November 8, 2010; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  Dan Morse, Homicide, Montgomery, Updates  
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Comments

20 years is a long time. Especially when you consider that these will be the best 20 years of his life lost behind bars. when he gets out (he'll probably have aged 25 to 30 years) he'll be a middle aged man with a bleak future.
Nothing will bring back the life he took, but it seems like a reasonable punishment to me.
I also like that Maryland has a "good time" credit program for prisoners. I'd hate to be a guard working in a prison that didn't offer that.

Posted by: MarilynManson | November 8, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

If someone were to kill a popular middle school principal who lived a lifestyle typcial of middle school leaders, then that would be an outrage.

Betts didn't live a life typical of most middle school principals. Few middle school principals arrange to have sex parties with 18 year olds, male or female.

Would you be surprised to learn that a dare-devil race car driver was killed in a road race? No.

Would you be surprised to learn that a popular middle school principal was killed by thugs? Yes.

Would be surprised to learn that a risk-taking educator was killed taking a big risk? Maybe a little.

It looks like Betts's risky lifestyle is not being considered in the plea deal.

Posted by: blasmaic | November 8, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

^^^That's the problem....The Law should be color-blind. Murder is Murder. No matter how you get to it....

The Principal had what he had coming to him because he wanted to have sex with (close to) similarly aged boys he was the principal of.....And now he is dead.

But now the those who had a hand in it, must suffer the conseqeunces of their poor planning.....

Posted by: 4thFloor | November 8, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Betts' "risky" lifestyle? That is crass, biased and unneccessary. The man was murdered in his own home by thugs

Posted by: kelly19 | November 8, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Betts' "risky" lifestyle? That is crass, biased and unneccessary. The man was murdered in his own home by thugs

Posted by: kelly19 | November 8, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Betts' "risky" lifestyle? That is crass, biased and unneccessary. The man was murdered in his own home by thugs

Posted by: kelly19 | November 8, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Betts' "risky" lifestyle? That is crass, biased and unneccessary. The man was murdered in his own home by thugs

Posted by: kelly19 | November 8, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse
--------------------------

I am not brainwashed into the benevolence of all things gay and lesbian.

Betts allowed his murderers into his home under the auspices of having sex with an 18 year old male.

I did equate his risky conduct to that of a dare-devil race car driver, which I did to remove the characteristic of risk taking from his homosexuality. There are plenty of gays and lesbians who don't have sex parties with 18 year old black males who they do not know at all.

Betts lived a dangerous lifestyle.

We should not be shocked as if he was living a quiet, safe lifestyle like most middle school administrators.

But that's the underlying assumption of the plea deal. There's no hard evidence on the defendant, and although he acted wrongly, the victim placed himself at great risk.

We are less harsh on car theives when the owner leaves the keys in the ignition. There are circumstances that created an unusual crime of opportunity in the murder of Betts.

Posted by: blasmaic | November 8, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

kelly19 wrote:
"Betts' "risky" lifestyle? That is crass, biased and unneccessary. The man was murdered in his own home by thugs "

Yes, inviting people one meets over chat lines is very risky for anyone. It is taught in schools at a very early age.
If you want to meeet someone in person, do it in a public place.
There are thugs everywhere, people, the first line of defense is your common sense.
That being said, this is a sad passing and in his professional life, Mr, Betts did a lot for D.C. schools.

Posted by: rosimuehlstedt | November 8, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Men wanting to sleep with 18 year old's is nasty...The general thought of men with men is unthinkable and nasty. But that's them...There should be no plea bargain for murder... America is too soft on criminals...Because they will get out and POSSIBLY commit more crimes.... there adults, we all know what is a crime, it's common since... forget a jail criminals need to be put to work as in HARD LABOR... pulling up rail road tracks... digging ditches... no more relaxing in the sail waiting for Lil man or Big ski it's time for jail reform... these businesses who run these jails are making so much money...

Posted by: pusha-d | November 8, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Yes, the routine activities of a person can increase or decrease one's probability of victimization. But "the victim had it coming" is irrelevant to the crime at hand; Brian Betts may have placed himself in a situation that increased his risk for victimization, but it was the choice of the men who committed the crime whether or not to commit said crime. Brian Betts did not "deserve" to be murdered, nor did he "ask for it."

In the end, The four men chose to commit murder. They alone need to accept responsibility for their actions and not cast blame (partial or otherwise) on the victim.

Posted by: JG08 | November 8, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Brian Betts did not "deserve" to be murdered, nor did he "ask for it."

In the end, The four men chose to commit murder. They alone need to accept responsibility for their actions and not cast blame (partial or otherwise) on the victim.

Posted by: JG08 | November 8, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

-------------------

I wasn't blaming the victim. Even those who leave their keys in the ignition don't deserve to have their cars stolen.

Stealing a car with the keys in the ignition is a different type of crime than carjacking Benzes at gunpoint for profit.

Likewise, killing a middle school administrator who lives a quiet and safe life is different from killing an individual who doesn't. They should not be sentenced as if they killed a saint.

Posted by: blasmaic | November 8, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

The plea deal for these animals should be whether they want the Electric Chair or Lethal Injection. 20 years time served is an insult to this man and the people of Maryland.

Posted by: Pilot1 | November 8, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

I imagine if Mr. Betts had tried an assignation with an 18 yr old adult woman, many of you would be high fiving and saying way to go man .... not commenting on his risky behavior. Many married and heterosexual people engage in risky behavior as well and don't get this sort of commentary about it

Posted by: kelly19 | November 8, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse


"blasmaic" seems to think Mr. Betts' murder was justified because of the way he lived his life. Lucky for "blasmaic", we are not a society which kills people when it turns out that they are complete morons. Then again, reading "blasmaic", maybe we SHOULD be...

Posted by: Orsalia | November 8, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Orsalia,

No I don't believe Betts should have been killed. I believe he did things that made his murder a higher risk than if he had not invited one or more 18 year old black men to a sex party at his house.

Even Betts would probably not want them to spend so much time in prison that they become proud of what they did.

Posted by: blasmaic | November 8, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Gosh: isn't this murder a GLBT hate crime?

Oh, I forgot: by definition and political circumstance, black people cannot commit hate crimes against white people.

Death penalty, anyone?

Posted by: confounded | November 8, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

blasmaic makes a lot of assumptions. First of all no one knows exactly what was discussed or arranged on the chat line. For all we know the perpetrator said he was older and arranged to meet Betts alone. Betts may have met one perpetrator at the door and let him in (from the mugs shots, all these guys look much older than their real ages). For all we know, Betts may have been dead before the others came into the house.

Did Betts make some poor choices that night? I would say yes, although I think many people (gay and straight) meet people online or at a bar and invite them home before they know them very well.

Whether this activity was a regular occurrence with Betts or an anomaly is not known - and may never be known.

Suffice it to say no one deserves to be murdered for inviting an adult into their home for sex.

Posted by: lipschitzantwon | November 8, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

blasmaic makes a lot of assumptions. First of all no one knows exactly what was discussed or arranged on the chat line. For all we know the perpetrator said he was older and arranged to meet Betts alone. Betts may have met one perpetrator at the door and let him in (from the mugs shots, all these guys look much older than their real ages). For all we know, Betts may have been dead before the others came into the house.

Did Betts make some poor choices that night? I would say yes, although I think many people (gay and straight) meet people online or at a bar and invite them home before they know them very well.

Whether this activity was a regular occurrence with Betts or an anomaly is not known - and may never be known.

Suffice it to say no one deserves to be murdered for inviting an adult into their home for sex.

Posted by: lipschitzantwon | November 8, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

I'm SHOCKED! SHOCKED! that the perpetrators weren't Norwegian.

Posted by: luca_20009 | November 8, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

I thought I saw news reports that Betts and one of the perpetrators had met on a sex chat line and Betts invited at least one of the men over to his house.

Murdering Betts was a violation of the law regardless of who he was or what he intended for that evening.

I am not the person who made Betts feel he could have casual sexual relations with an 18 year old male or female and still be in conformity with DCPS's expectations for responsible conduct.

Posted by: blasmaic | November 8, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

When you look at this case I think both sides bascially won.
When the victim invited the perp into him home(regardless of the circumstances the kid was invited and provided access to the home)there's going to be a certain degree of culpability on the victim's part.
Obviously the kid planned to rob whomever he made arrangements to meet as he's admitted that.
But there is a certain amount of common sense Mr. Betts failed to use here. Given today's society, he had to understand giving essentially a stranger access to his home was risky.
A terrible error in judgement by the victim played a significant role in how and why the crime occurred(as in he wasn't carjacked or the home wasn't forcibly entered).
That certainly doesn't justify the murder or even the robbery. But Mr. Betts was a functional human being and had to realize there was risk in his behavior.
I don't think the case was handled any differently because of the victim's lifestyle. Had this been a single woman murdered under the same circumstances it would be handled the same way.

Posted by: BigDaddy651 | November 8, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

It's disgusting that once again people are trying to blame the victim, implying that Betts somehow deserved to die because he arranged a liaison with someone 18. First, Betts was on an adult chat line and thought that he was speaking with adults. We have no idea what the accused told him regarding his age. Given that the aim was to rob Betts and the accused was ready and willing to commit a serious crime, it is doubtful that he was honest about anything.

I saw mug shots of all four of the perps and they looked older than 18 to me. If I saw them on the streets, I'd say they were mid to late 30s. They were certainly old enough to become cunning criminals.

Meeting people on a sex chat line is risky regardless of whether you are gay or straight. Betts was foolish to have agreed to meet the accused at his home. But he certainly did not deserve to die.

Posted by: dcheretic1 | November 8, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Saunders should FRY!!

Posted by: 10bestfan | November 8, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

After the hearing, defense attorney Felson said, "Mr. Betts made it easy for my client to murder him, so my client murdered him."

Posted by: sheckycat | November 8, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Another hate crime; where's DOJ on this...?

...and proving yet again there is no such thing as 'life in prison'. The sentencing laws are as much 'bs' as the selectively applied hate crime laws...

Posted by: srb2 | November 8, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

It seems to me that this was gay bashing with a robbery since Mr. Betts was in no position to report them.
Mr. Betts does bear some responsibility in his death. He brought those monsters into his house.
If he was a straight female, I would say the same thing.
Was it not the premise of "Waiting for Mr.Goodbar"?

Posted by: RoyHag | November 8, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Betts didn't deserve to die for having sex with an 18 year old man, heck the age of legal consent in DC is 16.

The killer though should not have been sentenced as if he methodically took the life of a saint who lived a quiet, safe existence away from all risk and harm.

Forgive me, I'm just not brainwashed into believing the benevolence and superior value of all things gay and lesbian.

Posted by: blasmaic | November 8, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

This lawyer disgusts me.

Posted by: foldingtime | November 8, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

How does blasmaic believe he should be sentenced? Nobody says the man was a saint. He was murdered nevertheless. The criminal gets 40 years reducable to 20. What would blasmaic suggest is fair here?

Posted by: holikjim | November 8, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

How does blasmaic believe he should be sentenced? Nobody says the man was a saint. He was murdered nevertheless. The criminal gets 40 years reduceable to 20. What would blasmaic suggest is fair here? And what does this have to do with the
"benevolence of things gay and lesbian" as he's ponificated in each of his threads. What does that even mean?

Posted by: holikjim | November 8, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

If a mature male arranged to have sex with 18 year old females and they robbed and killed him, everyone would easily see the male as a victim of murder. Period. These were not children. They were cold-blooded murderers and the mature male was not engaging in illegal activity of any sort. We could argue about the severity of the punishment but don't blame the victim!

Posted by: gary16 | November 8, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

The lawyer's comment was a cheap shot -- and I say this as an attorney myself. Betts was killed because his client shot him. These kids targeted him. Absolutely, Betts engaged in "risky" behavior -- but this is not different from women who pick up men on Craigslist and end up murdered. The risky behavior did not cause the murder. Instead, the client's callousness did.

Finally, TBD.Com has a better description of the proceeding than the WaPost. WP has always tried to hide the sexual dimension of this story -- as if making it known would take away from the tragedy. The lawyer's comment should not take away from Betts' life or the way that he died. When heterosexuals are murdered as a result of sexual connections (usually women), this is a tragedy. The rules should not change because Betts was gay.

Posted by: darrren12000 | November 8, 2010 7:24 PM | Report abuse

"life sentence with all but 40 years suspended" is what he got.

They sent a 19 year old to prison for 40 years, not 20.

"The criminal gets 40 years reduceable to 20. What would blasmaic suggest is fair here?"

Like you, holikjim, I believe 20 years total is appropriate for the crime, but he has 20 years to serve before he is eligible for parole.

People loved Betts and that's okay by me, but he was living a risky lifestyle. If a race-car driver was killed in a race-car accident, would you be surprised? But the public didn't know of Betts's risky conduct, so the murder seems more heinous than it was.

How did Betts come to believe that his conduct was within DCPS expectations for principals?


Posted by: blasmaic | November 8, 2010 8:21 PM | Report abuse

To honor the memory of Brian Betts we must repela "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." And to honor the memory of Dr. King, we must exonerate the poor, oppressed, Afro-American murderers who have been behind the 8-ball ever since their great-great-great grandfathers didn't get their 40 acres and a mule.

Posted by: wagtdn | November 8, 2010 8:22 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget, he invited them or who he thought was his date into his home. The defense is prepared to bring up his dirty little secrets too. So don't be suprised if it happens, You just may change your mind about the late Mr. Betts.

Posted by: msdooby1 | November 8, 2010 8:28 PM | Report abuse

Many times I have gone out on assualt calls in Adams Morgan, Capitol Hill, and Conn. Ave., where the victom has invited a young man to the house, and gets beaten up/robbed. They want us to catch the doer, but not report it because the victom is usually high up in government at the pentagon, the capitol, and dare I say it, even the white house. I could name names, some would suprise you and sadly some would not.(some are female, most are male, some even married) This happens more often then the public hears about.

Posted by: msdooby1 | November 8, 2010 8:42 PM | Report abuse

Many times I have gone out on assualt calls in Adams Morgan, Capitol Hill, and Conn. Ave., where the victom has invited a young man to the house, and gets beaten up/robbed. They want us to catch the doer, but not report it because the victim is usually high up in government at the pentagon, the capitol, and dare I say it, even the white house. I could name names, some would suprise you and sadly some would not.(some are female, most are male, some even married) This happens more often then the public hears about.

Posted by: msdooby1 | November 8, 2010 8:43 PM | Report abuse

msdoody: i believe it. people often do not report sex crimes....these are not necessarily sex crimes, but they involve a sexual lure. gay victims, especially, might not want to "come out" in order to report the crime. I can understand this.

Posted by: darrren12000 | November 8, 2010 9:53 PM | Report abuse

Amazing job, Montgomery County Police! You allowed a MURDERER to get off of a full life sentence because of sloppy police work!!! And for this you want to be congratulated? Whoever handled this case in the MoCo police department SHOULD BE FIRED!!
.
Would the Wash Post like to investigate the handling of this case by MoCo Police? Please, as a public service.

From the Montgomery Gazette:
"Felsen also commented on the court's decision in October to side with the defense's motion to suppress some of Saunders' statements made to police after it was revealed that he had not been made fully aware of his Miranda right not to speak to police without the presence of an attorney. This decision likely had bearing on the prosecution's decision to settle on the plea agreement, Felsen said."


Posted by: B-rod | November 12, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

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