CRIME

P.G. County murders 2011: A tale of one county, split in two

Correction:

An earlier version of this story said former county executive Jack Johnson and District 6 Councilmember Leslie Johnson were under federal indictment. They are not. The Johnsons were charged using a criminal complaint.

How are the two sides of Prince George's County responding to the carnage that has taken place in the county since Jan. 1? We're reporting from these communities throughout the day and posting the stories here.

Alitha Mae Jenkins | Md. general assembly | Live from Wegmans | O'Malley's been there | Drug kingpin? | Not in Bowie | Not the norm for P.G. | A violent world | Change is the only constant | Business as usual | 'It's frightening' | Victim's mother | Poverty baby | 'I have no answers' | Not enough policeToo distraught to speak | 'Positive place to live | Calling it quits | It's business | Plenty of disappointment | Weird coincidence | Where are the police? | Exposed to violence | These days and times

The homicide count is climbing in Prince George's County, but not across it.

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There have been 13 homicides since New Year's Day in Prince George's County, mostly inside the Beltway. (Image: Google)

Long story short

How are the two distinct parts of Prince George's county responding to the recent carnage?

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Authorities have announced 13 murder investigations in the first 12 days of 2011, a grim and violent start for the new year. At this point, the county is reeling. Local officials and homicide detectives are scrambling to move personnel and explain to the community why there have been so many deaths and so few arrests.

Official reassurances to county residents focus on choices: If you're not involved in gangs or drugs, you have no reason to fear for your life. "It's . . . important for folks to know that the lifestyle of these victims has greatly contributed to where they are in life," Deputy Police Chief Kevin Davis told the Washington Post

Though county police and county leaders and county prosecutors are charged with stemming the problem, it would be misleading to call this a countywide scourge. Eleven of the homicides occurred in the portion of Prince George's County that lies inside the Beltway. It's one of the places where the region stores its social problems — high unemployment, a dreary housing stock, an impoverished retail landscape, and lots of crime. The key locales in this sliver of the county — Landover, Capitol Heights, District Heights — have starring roles in regional crime blotters.   

A more affluent Prince George's County awaits farther east, beyond the Beltway, where two of the 11 recent homicides have taken place. There's less density and more McMansions out there. If you hop on the right highway (Route 4), you'll come across the Prince George's Equestrian Center. Keep wandering southeast, and you'll hit rolling pastures and perfectly maintained estates.  

The two-county theme surfaces in government data. In the part of Temple Hills where two homicides were recorded on Jan. 4, the median household income is $53,331, according to the latest available Census data. Contrast that profile with the numbers a little jump outside the Beltway, where only two of the deaths have taken place, and median household quickly begins to run between about $62,000 and $98,000. Even further out, in the tony development called Holloway Estates Park, where exactly no deaths have been reported, it jumps to $103,000.

County politics, too, are driven by geography. For the past eight years, the Prince George’s top leader hailed from outside the Beltway. Former county executive Jack Johnson lived in relatively posh Mitchellville, a stronghold of Prince George’s famed black wealth. Johnson and his wife, District 6 Councilmember Leslie Johnson, have been charged with federal crimes. The new executive, Rushern Baker, comes from inside-the-Beltway Cheverly.

The new state’s attorney, Angela Alsobrooks, lives in Upper Marlboro, which is closer to the Chesapeake Bay than the District line. She came into office with a plan to conquer quality-of-life crimes such as burglaries and car break-ins. Perhaps she's had to put that one on hold. 

The current rash follows a drop in crime across the county in recent years. There were eight homicides in Prince George’s County in January 2009 and just five in January 2010. Police ended last year with 98 homicides, according to the Washington Post, and closed 79 percent of the 92 homicide cases they investigated in 2009.

"This is remarkable, remarkable work," then-Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton, who was fired last month, said at the time. "We're doing this while maintaining our professionalism."

The year started with the death of Ansel Donovan Whitelocke, 58, who was found stabbed inside his Chillum home. Police believe he knew his attacker. That was followed by four deaths reported Jan. 4. Clifton Antion Turner, 42, was shot outside a bar. Mark Andrew Davis Jr., 28, was found with a slit throat, while Larry Junior Watkins, 38, had been shot. Both had tape over their mouths. Three people were injured that day in a drug-related shootout, which left 19-year-old Michael DeAngelo Layne dead.

The homicide rate kept spiraling. There was Terrance Calvin Hunter, found fatally shot on Jan. 5.  The deaths of Maurice D. Valentine, Corteza Warren Livingston, a man who wasn’t immediately identified, were all reported the next day. Juan Moreno Aguilar was fatally stabbed, and his death reported on Jan. 10.

On the same day, interim Police Chief Mark Magaw announced plans to transfer officers to the criminal investigation and narcotics divisions in response to the homicide cases, some of which authorities believe are drug-related. That switch is underway and teams should be in place by the weekend, a spokesman said Wednesday.

“I hope that these arrests bring some calm to our residents, who have been concerned about the number of homicides we have experienced in our county,” Magaw said in a statement.

That day, A University of Maryland student and a home intruder were killed, bringing the total to 12. Number 13 came Wednesday afternoon, when medical examiners ruled the Jan. 7 death of 51-year-old Alitha Mae Jenkins a homicide.

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