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Posted at 5:40 PM ET, 12/ 9/2010

Plea deal, possible trial in Betts case

By Dan Morse

Artura Williams, a relatively minor player in the Brian Betts murder case, pleaded guilty to two stolen credit card-related offenses this week.

Meanwhile, a lawyer for the final defendant, Deontra Gray, said Thursday that he hasn't pleaded to anything, raising the specter of the first courtroom showdown in the eight-month-long case.

"We expect to go to trial," said Barbara Graham.

Betts, a well-known middle-school principal in the District, was found shot in his Silver Spring bedroom in April. Four suspects, 18 to 19 at the time, originally were charged with murder.

Williams, 46, is the mother of one of the four, and was accused of trying to use one of Betts's stolen credit cards at a Giant grocery store. She pleaded guilty Tuesday, and faces up to three years incarceration.

Neil Jacobs, Williams's attorney, called the plea "a reasonable and fair resolution" to his client's case. He said sentencing guidelines, which take into account Williams's lack of a criminal record, recommend a sentence between probation and two months in jail.

Williams's plea brings to four the total pleas in the case. In addition to her:

  • Alante Saunders has admitted to going on a sex chat line, setting up a fake meeting with Betts and going to his house to rob him. Betts left his door unlocked. Saunders went inside, went upstairs and shot Betts. Saunders pleaded guilty to murder, and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
  • Sharif Lancaster, originally charged with murder, also went inside Betts's house, based on fingerprint evidence. He pleaded guilty to lesser charges of robbery and a handgun count. He hasn't been sentenced but faces up to 35 years in prison. Lancaster is the son of Williams.
  • Joel Johnson, originally charged with murder, admitted to being in the house when Betts was shot. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of accessory after the fact to first-degree murder. He hasn't been sentenced, but faces up to five years in prison.

Gray remains charged with murder, under the legal theory that he participated in a felony -- in this case, robbery -- while Betts was murdered. Prosecutors have said he went into Betts's house, and that surveillance video later showed Gray in at least one store when one of Betts's stolen credit cards was being used.

Graham, Gray's attorney, said she has seen no evidence that he went inside Betts's house. She said her client didn't use Betts's credit cards. She said he could be guilty of receiving stolen property, based on his accepting a pair of sneakers purchased with a Betts's credit card.

She called Gray "the least culpable" of the four accused of going to Betts's house.

Seth Zucker, a spokesman for the Montgomery County state's attorney's office, declined to comment, citing a policy of not commenting on the facts of pending cases.

By Dan Morse  | December 9, 2010; 5:40 PM ET
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How did he know Betts' credit card was stolen or that the sneakers had been purchased with a card that belonged to Betts?

Maybe Betts gave his killer the credit card, and then when he said what he wanted in exchange, the man shot him. Or a verbal dispute then occured and the man shot him.

Betts left the door to his house open and waited upstairs in bed for the black male whose voice sounded young. Why would anyone assume that all of the cards were stolen?

Posted by: blasmaic | December 9, 2010 8:11 PM | Report abuse

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