no. (roses_rejoice) wrote,

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True crime.

It's weird to spend two days grousing and mumbling to yourself because you havetogotosomedernmeeting, and then when you finally get there, actually kinda sorta enjoy it, even the conversation, as well as the Free Lunch (always a plus).

Later, while reading some article on juries needing counseling after looking at particularly horrible evidence, I came across a mention of Solomon v. State, the case dealing with the 1992 totally random and extremely heartwrenching carjacking of Dr. Pam Basu in a "nice" neighborhood of Howard County. All of HoCo is supposed to be nice, every street chockablock with doctor this and lawyer that, all so edjumacated and unremittingly yuppiefied that it weirded me out to live there because I was used to the "rich" or "educated" 'hoods being smaller, more compact, perhaps surrounded by more average Joes. But I-95 runs through it, and "the element" drifts down from B'more or up from DC or just sort of festers in the thoughtfully planned and artfully spaced low-income housing developments, and, well, stuff like this happens sometimes and happened quite a bit back in the Dodge City Murder Capital days. Though maybe not always to this degree.

* * *
The Grace Lagana Incident

Grace Lagana was the first of the victims at a few minutes after 8 A.M. on September 8, 1992. She had just arrived for work as the administrative supervisor of the tourist information center at a rest area on northbound Interstate 95. The rest stop is at Mile Marker 37, which is between Route 216 and Route 32. She had parked her 1989 Chrysler LeBaron at her usual spot on the parking lot and then walked around to her passenger door to retrieve some paperwork, several file folders, and her purse.

The appellant and Bernard Miller, meanwhile, had had the Cadillac, in which they were returning to Washington with two other individuals, run out of gas along southbound I-95 across the road from the rest stop. The appellant and Bernard Miller went foraging for gasoline or for alternative transportation.

Grace Lagana, as she stood by her open passenger door, sensed the two men approach from her rear. It was the appellant who spoke, "Give me your car keys or I will blow your fucking head off." Ms. Lagana replied, "You can't have them," and held on to her key ring firmly. The appellant grabbed her right hand and the keys and engaged her in a tug of war. Ms. Lagana maintained her grip on the key ring itself, but the appellant pulled the keys loose from the ring. The appellant moved around to the driver's side, opened the door, and got in the car. Bernard Miller grabbed her wrist *357 and forced her to the ground in an effort to get around her and into the passenger's seat.

As Ms. Lagana was yelling for help to some people at nearby pay phones, the appellant was trying, with no success, to get the ignition started. It was the trunk key that the appellant had jammed into the ignition. As a young man came running toward the scene yelling, "Leave that lady alone and leave her car alone," both the appellant and Bernard Miller jumped out of Ms. Lagana's car and ran toward a wooded area with a residential community just beyond it. Gorman Road, just south of the rest stop, passes over I-95 and runs into the nearby residential community.

Ms. Lagana made a positive in-court identification of the appellant as her primary assailant. The fingerprints of the appellant, moreover, were found on the driver's side of Ms. Lagana's Chrysler LeBaron.

The First Testimonial Bridge: From Grace Lagana to Laura Becraft

As the appellant and Bernard Miller fled from the parking lot of the rest stop, it was no more than 200 yards up to Gorman Road. From the I-95 overpass, it is no more than 3/8 ths of a mile farther east on Gorman Road to Jaclyn Court, where Laura Becraft lived. The first testimonial bridge between the Grace Lagana incident and the Laura Becraft incident was supplied in part by Susan Margaret Harkins. She was driving her two-year-old to a day-care center at approximately **1077 8:10 A.M. She was driving westbound on Gorman Road when she noticed two young black males, one of whom she positively identified in the courtroom as the appellant, running rapidly eastbound on Gorman Road. The appellant and his companion were, when observed, about halfway between the I-95 overpass and Jaclyn Court.

The second part of that first testimonial bridge was supplied by John Bryan. He lived on Jaclyn Court immediately across the street from Laura Becraft. At approximately 8:10 A.M., he was getting ready to walk his young son to the Forest *358 Ridge Elementary School, less than a quarter of a mile from his home. When his son told him that two strangers were walking up the driveway, he decided not to answer the door. Through a window, he watched as the two black males walked up on the porch and rang the doorbell. When there was no response, they left within a minute or two. They walked immediately across Jaclyn Court and up the driveway belonging to Laura Becraft. Mr. Bryan observed the two men as they conversed briefly with Laura Becraft. John Bryan made a positive in-court identification of the appellant as one of the two men on Jaclyn Court at approximately 8:10 that morning.

The Laura Becraft Incident

Laura Ann Becraft lived on Jaclyn Court. She lived, incidentally, within a few blocks of Pam Basu. That small residential community of "about fifty houses" was occupied by "mostly younger families," who "have children who are in the elementary age." Laura Becraft was just leaving home to escort her five-year-old son Ben to his kindergarten class at the nearby Forest Ridge Elementary School. Although Ms. Becraft normally left for school between 8:00 and 8:05 A.M., she was running a few minutes late on the morning of September 8. Instead of enjoying the leisure time to walk her son to school, she decided to drive. Walking or driving, it was her custom to pick up a neighbor's child, who lived about five houses away, and take him with them.

As Laura Becraft and her son were preparing to get into her car, parked in her driveway, she was approached by the appellant and Bernard Miller, who were at that point walking up her driveway. The appellant said, "I need to come in your house and use your phone." She explained that she was in a hurry to get to school and that they would have to try some other house. The appellant persisted, "No. You don't understand. I need to come into your house and use the phone. We're lost. It's an emergency." Laura Becraft continued to insist that they would have to try some other house. With that, she and her son drove off.

*359 They only drove for a distance of five houses, however, because she had to pick up her son's classmate, Kyle, at 9502 Jaclyn Court. Laura Becraft went into Kyle's house to get him and had some difficulty getting him to tuck in his shirt and put on his jacket. As she escorted Kyle out to her waiting automobile, put him in the passenger side, and started to return to the driver's side, the appellant and Bernard Miller came rushing up to her. As she pulled back, the appellant grabbed her left wrist, saying, "Give me your keys." The two children in the car started screaming. Ms. Becraft stubbornly held onto her keys and started backing up toward 9502 Jaclyn Court. She yelled, "No, get away from me." A short struggle for the keys ensued, but Laura Becraft had her fingers through the ring and held on. The appellant clenched his fist and held it up as if to hit her. At one point, he reached down toward his waist and said, "I have a gun." Notwithstanding the threats, Laura Becraft "broke the grasp" and backed away, yelling, "Call the police. These two men attacked me."

At that point, the appellant and Bernard Miller broke off the attack, said, "Sorry, lady," and walked nonchalantly up the street. Laura Becraft lost sight of them at that point. She made a positive in-court identification of the appellant.

The Second Testimonial Bridge: From Laura Becraft to Pam Basu

Theresa Giddings left her home, a block away from that of Laura Becraft, to walk her two children and a neighbor's child to the Forest Ridge Elementary School at 8:10 A.M. As she stood at a pedestrian crosswalk **1078 near the point where the Jaclyn Court/Jeanne Court cul-de-sac meets Gorman Road, she heard a female voice yell, "No, stop." Moments later, she saw the appellant and Bernard Miller walk from the Jaclyn Court/Jeanne Court cul-de-sac to its intersection with Gorman Road. Suspicious because they were strangers in the neighborhood, she paid close attention. As they approached her, she heard Bernard Miller ask the appellant, "What are we going to do now?" She heard the appellant reply, "Don't worry. Be cool. We will get one." As she escorted the three *360 children across Gorman Road, she noticed the two men "take off running" eastbound on Gorman Road. It was in that direction, approximately two blocks farther east, that Pam Basu lived. Theresa Giddings made a positive in-court identification of the appellant.

As Theresa Giddings was returning from the school a few minutes later, she saw her friend and neighbor Laura Becraft, who was waiting for the arrival of the police. Laura Becraft explained to her the events of a few minutes earlier. As they were standing there, Theresa Giddings heard, from farther east on Gorman Road, "a female scream and it was one long loud scream." Almost immediately thereafter, she "saw a flash of a car going towards 29 and it was the color of a tannish yellow."

John Bryan, the neighbor across the street from Laura Becraft, who had testified about observing the appellant and Bernard Miller at his front door and his determination not to answer it, was still looking out of his upstairs window some minutes later. After the episode between Laura Becraft and the two men had been concluded, John Bryan observed the two of them running down Gorman Road in an easterly direction, the direction of the Basu home.

The evidentiary contribution of Gary Lagola was slight, but he did represent a spatial and temporal mid-point between the Laura Becraft incident and the Pam Basu incident. He lived on Horsham Drive, a few houses away from Pam Basu. He was walking his child to the Forest Ridge Elementary School that morning when he noticed two young black men, strangers in the neighborhood, talking to a neighbor. The place where Mr. Lagola observed the two was between the Jaclyn Court home of Laura Becraft and the Horsham Drive home of Pam Basu. Mr. Lagola also explained how in that neighborhood, with various residential cul-de-sacs opening out onto Gorman Road, pedestrian distances are shorter than vehicular distances because of footpaths that connect the neighborhoods both with each other and directly with Gorman Road.

*361 Julie Panzeri lived on Horsham Drive as the next-door neighbor of Pam Basu. It was precisely 8:25 A.M., as she was about to leave for work, that she came out of her home and observed the festive activity at the Basu household. Pam Basu was about to take her 22 1/2 month old daughter, Sarina, for her first day in school. The father, Steve Basu, and the family's "nanny" were standing in the doorway of the home memorializing the event with a video camera. Pam Basu was standing by the passenger side of her BMW with Sarina. It was at that point that Julie Panzeri noticed two black males walking down the middle of the street. She made a positive in-court identification of the appellant as one of them. She noticed, moreover, that the appellant seemed to be observing Pam Basu very closely.

Three separate persons were witnesses with respect to both the attack on Laura Becraft and the later attack on Pam Basu. Steven Poore was taking his kindergarten son to school (the five-year-old, who was just learning to tell time, noted specifically to his father that it was 8:08 as they left the house) when he noticed two black males, the younger of whom he identified as Bernard Miller, milling about and looking at cars in the area of Jaclyn Court. It was several minutes later that he heard a woman, in the area of Jaclyn Court, yelling and screaming. When he turned to look, he saw the same two black males emerge from the cul-de-sac and run east on Gorman Road. After depositing his five-year-old at school, and stopping at the principal's office to complain about the absence of a crossing guard, he was returning home at approximately 8:20. He saw the light brown colored BMW, which turned out to be Pam Basu's, westbound on Gorman **1079 Road at a high rate of speed. It was occupied by two black males. He identified the one on the passenger side (Bernard Miller) as the younger of the two individuals he had earlier seen leaving the Jaclyn Court area.

Both Sandra Benz and Stephanie Donnelly testified that, as they were taking their children to school that morning, they noticed two black males walking eastbound on Gorman Road, coming from the direction of Jaclyn Court and going in the *362 direction of Horsham Drive. They both deposited their children at school and were returning home ten to fifteen minutes later when they saw the BMW speeding westbound on Gorman Road. Both of them, unlike Steven Poore, saw the body of a human being attached to the speeding vehicle and being dragged and bounced along the roadway. Sandra Benz, moreover, recognized the passenger in the BMW as the younger of the two black males she had seen ten to fifteen minutes earlier walking on Gorman Road.

The Pam Basu Incident

Mercifully, Biswaneth "Steve" Basu, the owner of a small engineering company doing work for the United States Government, did not witness the grotesque murder of his wife, Dr. Pam Basu, a research scientist with the W.R. Grace Company in Columbia. Mr. Basu was a witness, however, to events just minutes before the fatal attack took place. September 8th was to have been their daughter Sarina's first day at the Montessori Preschool. Mr. Basu testified that the family was up at 6:30 A.M. to prepare for the day's activities. As Pam Basu and Sarina were preparing to leave in Pam's BMW, Mr. Basu was recording everything with his videotape camera. Mr. Basu was going to follow them to school in his own car a few minutes later, bringing the "nanny" with him so that she could familiarize herself with the route.

Ironically, as Mr. Basu was filming his wife and daughter standing in front of the wife's automobile, the video camera caught and recorded the picture of the appellant and Bernard Miller walking down the middle of Horsham Drive behind them.

Mr. Basu testified as to how Sarina was strapped into a car seat in the right rear of the automobile. He also described how it was his wife's regular practice, as "a very safe and careful driver," to come to a complete stop at the stop sign where Horsham Drive intersected Knightsbridge Road one block away. Normally, she would then have turned left on Knightsbridge Road and followed it for one block to its *363 intersection with Gorman Road. The last time Mr. Basu saw his wife alive was as she drove toward the intersection with Knightsbridge Road at approximately 8:25 that morning. The identification of the appellant and Bernard Miller on the videotape was clear.

Pam Basu was attacked as she stopped for the stop sign at Horsham Drive and Knightsbridge Road. There were several witnesses to the initial corpus delicti. They were the occupants of a truck that was approaching the same stop sign and was perhaps half a block back at the time of the initial attack. Tammy Lynn Rienstra was in the right front seat of the truck which was being driven by her live-in boyfriend David Self. Her four-year-old son was seated between them in the front of the truck. Standing in the back of the open truck were Robert Hicks, who shared a residence with them, and Tammy's six-year old son. Both boys were being delivered to Forest Ridge Elementary School at shortly before 8:30 A.M.

When Tammy Rienstra observed trouble ahead at the stop sign, her truck slowed down and then stopped. She first observed what "appeared to be a man fighting with someone in the car." She saw a second man run around to the passenger side of the car as the driver's door opened and the first man was "smacking or punching" the woman in the driver's seat. The woman was ultimately pulled out of the car and fell to the ground. As the first man got into the driver's seat, the woman ran back to the car and "the car drove away with her attached to it." As Tammy Rienstra described the scene:
She was attached to the car. Her body was bouncing off the ground. Well first off, she was running and then there is a dip in the road and that is when her body started bouncing off the road.
**1080 She described how one of the woman's shoes was off and how "after her knees made contact" with the ground, she stopped running and "was dragged by her heels."

As the stolen BMW, dragging Pam Basu's body, continued straight ahead on Horsham Drive until it would ultimately *364 curve around into Gorman Road several blocks further east, the pickup truck carrying Tammy Rienstra made a left turn at Knightsbridge Road and proceeding more directly to Gorman Road, when it turned left again to drop the two children at school. Tammy Rienstra had no desire to follow the BMW because she "was scared ... and was crying." She was "worried what my kids had seen because by this time they had done seen everything and they were freaking." At the front of the school, however, she told the vice-principal to call the police. It was as she was then "trying to get my kids settled" and "standing in front of the school," that she saw the same car dragging the same body come speeding down Gorman Road, westbound right past the school. She could see that the woman "was attached to the car" and that "it looked like her arm was slammed into the door." Her body was "being dragged along the road."

Robert Hicks was riding in the back of Tammy Rienstra's pickup truck when his attention was directed to the intersection of Horsham Drive and Knightsbridge Road by the driver's yelling, "Rob! Rob!" As Robert Hicks looked ahead, he saw that the pickup had come to a stop about "eight to ten car lengths" from the back of the BMW. He observed that "two males were beating the woman through the door, through the open window of the vehicle. She was screaming." From his open position in the truck, he could hear that "she was screaming the whole time." He described how both black males were hitting her very hard. As one ran around to the passenger's side, the other was "pulling her from the driver's seat." Initially, she was holding adamantly to the steering wheel. After she was thrown to the ground, her primary attacker jumped in the driver's seat and tried to close the door.

Robert Hicks made a positive in-court identification of the appellant as that primary assailant. He went on to describe how Pam Basu jumped up from the ground and ran back to the driver's window even as the appellant was "punching her out the window, punching her in the face." The car started up as she "was holding with her arm, it looked like, in the *365 window." After describing continued screaming and bouncing along the road as she was dragged by the car, Hicks described her "flopping like a rag doll stuck to the side of the vehicle and blood just started flying. I still heard her screaming ... until she went out of sight." He further described how the BMW "accelerated rapidly."

Robert Hicks also described how, as he and Tammy Rienstra were standing in front of the school, the BMW came speeding by in a westbound direction, still dragging the bouncing body of Pam Basu.

Kevin Brown was a dump truck driver who was moving north on Knightsbridge Road on the morning of September 8 and noticed the BMW stopped in the road at the point where Horsham Drive crosses Knightsbridge Road. He slowed down when he saw a male half in and half out of the driver's window and when he heard a woman scream. Immediately after clearing the intersection, he stopped and tried to observe the scene in his rear view mirror. He heard the woman screaming, "My baby." He saw the younger black male get in the passenger side of the BMW and attempt to force the woman driver out of the car by "kicking, pushing her out." The older male was on the driver's side hitting her with his fists "in her head." He was trying to pull her out as his companion attempted to push her out from the passenger side. Throughout the entire incident, the woman continued to scream loudly and to repeat, "My baby, my baby."

Kevin Brown acknowledged that he "was scared" but finally got out of his truck to approach the scene more closely. Anticipating trouble, he ran back to his truck "to get a chain out ... to defend myself or her." As he started to return to the BMW with his chain, he noticed that the woman was then outside of the car and down on her knees. As the car started to move, she tried "to grab at the car." As the car began to move **1081 away, eastbound on Horsham Drive, the woman was still screaming. As Kevin Brown described the scene:
The door closed and she lost, her footing went out, her arm, her left arm was stretched out and the car took off, *366 accelerated and she lost her footing and fell down and was just being drug up the road.

From the point where it crosses Knightsbridge Road, Horsham Drive continues for three blocks until it curves up into Gorman Road. Katherine Nehring had her three children in the car at several minutes after 8:25 A.M., as she stopped before making a left-hand turn from Horsham Drive onto Gorman Road. She noticed a car coming up behind her "in a real hurry." It passed her on her left-hand side and "screeched across the intersection." As it turned, she noticed "something dragging from the car." Initially, she thought that "it looked like a dummy or a Halloween prank or something."

Not yet taking the situation too seriously, she made her left-hand turn onto Gorman Road and was proceeding toward the Forest Ridge Elementary School when she noticed that in the car that had passed her "there was a man in the back struggling with something." The car then "screeched to a stop." As she passed it, she noticed that the thing the man was struggling with in the back seat "was a baby seat." According to Ms. Nehring, "that's when I started really paying attention." She described how the baby seat was "just tossed on the road. I mean just tossed, really thrown down just like a bag of garbage or a bag of potatoes or something." As the other car sped away, Ms. Nehring noticed that there was a baby in the baby seat. As she described it:
[W]ith the force of the impact of the baby seat hitting the pavement, it landed straight up, but it flipped on its side and the baby, I could see at that point there was a child in it, and the baby stood straight up and she was right in the middle of the road.

Ms. Nehring picked up little Sarina Basu from the roadway and ultimately took her to the police.

Various police officers described being able to follow a trail of blood, of clothing, and of flesh 1.7 miles west on Gorman Road to the point where the mangled body of Pam Basu was finally disengaged from the BMW and left on the roadway. *367 Just before the point where the body finally came loose from the car, the driver's side of the automobile to which her body was attached had rammed into a barbed wire fence. What was left of the body was wrapped with barbed wire that had coiled around it four times.

In addition to describing the massive mutilation, the post mortem examiner also testified to the fact that Dr. Basu's left arm had gotten entangled in the safety belt and that that was what kept her body from being disengaged from the car.

Solomon v. State
, 646 A.2d 1064, 1076-81 (Md. App. 1994).

* * *

Funny how I remember that like it was yesterday, when it's over 12 years ago already and so much has happened. How the news kept running the home movie that the daddy took of mommy and little baby on the lawn, waving bye-bye for baby's first day of school, and in the background you see the killers, who nobody knew were killers then, walk by, slowly, taking it all in. That happened within a day or two of when I was mugged. Actually, it might have been the same day even - I've mercifully managed to forget the exact date I got robbed. I remember sitting alone in the house (Dale was on a business trip) watching the news about Dr. Pam Basu and thinking, That could easily have been me, and other times, Why wasn't it me? My father died, I don't have a husband or a baby, there's less reason for me to still be here than her. But at the same time, scared because for the first time in many years I realized I didn't want to die. In those days I had nary a crack-smokin' idea that I'd become a hifalutin lawyer bopping down H Street with all the other hifalutin lawyers in our tailored suits with folders under our arms and reading about this case in the Atlantic Reporter. In those days I was doing well to wake up in the morning.
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