Murder suspect left jail last week Man charged in car hijacking faced drug charge

September 10, 1992|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer Staff writers James M. Coram, Michael James, Jackie Powder and Mark Guidera contributed to this article.

The man charged with killing a Howard County woman Tuesday while hijacking her car was released from jail last week when a judge ruled he could no longer be held on a 4-month-old drug charge.

Rodney Eugene Soloman was jailed May 4 in the District of Columbia on charges of intent to distribute heroin. He was released Sept. 1 under the district's Bail Reform Act of 1992. The act says a defendant can't be held in jail before trial solely because he can't afford the bail.

"Under the circumstances, it left no options but to release the individual as mandated by the law," said Associate D.C. Superior Court Judge Reggie B. Walton, who released Mr. Soloman.

Mr. Soloman and Bernard Eric Miller, 16, were charged Tuesday with first-degree murder, two counts of robbery and two counts of kidnapping. The teen-ager was charged as an adult. At a hearing yesterday, both suspects requested lawyers, and both were ordered held without bail.

Police and witnesses say the two men sped nearly two miles in Pamela Basu's BMW with the 34-year-old Savage woman either clinging or pinned to its side.

Mrs. Basu's 22-month-old daughter was in the car when it was hijacked and was placed on the roadside half a mile away.

Last night, an overflow crowd of close to 400 people packed the cafeteria at Forest Ridge Elementary -- along the Gorman Road route in Savage where Mrs. Basu was dragged to her death -- to hear about the police investigation and to express their shock and anger.

When one person asked about the maximum punishment that was possible, county police Lt. Dan Davis said, "There is a death penalty in the state."

The crowd erupted with applause.

Mark Liedl, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said prosecutors had requested that Mr. Soloman be held without bail on the heroin charge during a hearing in Washington May 11 because "we believed he posed a danger to the community" based on his prior record.

But court Commissioner Berg Morton set bail at $5,000.

Mr. Soloman subsequently petitioned the court to be released, which prosecutors opposed.

"We requested that the defendant be held without bond; the court rejected our request," Mr. Liedl said. "It's within the judge's discretion."

As a condition to Mr. Soloman's release, Judge Walton ordered that he obey a 6 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew, verify his address with D.C. Pretrial Services, attend a weekly drug program, report in person to Pretrial Services weekly and refrain from crime.

Mr. Soloman's record -- which spans nearly a decade -- includes two convictions for robberies in 1983 and 1984. For the 1983 robbery, he received six years' probation. For the 1984 robbery, he received a sentence of up to six years.

On Sept. 24, 1990, he was released from a federal correctional facility on the robbery conviction, said Kathy Boyer, director of administrative services of the D.C. Pretrial Services Agency. He served all of his time and is not on parole.

Court records show that he was charged with assault with intent to kill in June 1991 in a Washington street shooting, but that case was dismissed.

Because Bernard Eric Miller is a juvenile, his court records were not available.

Howard County prosecutor Michael Rexroad said a decision on whether to seek the death penalty will be made after a grand jury decides whether to indict the suspects. The case is to be presented to the grand jury Sept. 17, he said.

The suspects are being held in special isolation cells at the Howard County Detention Center. James Rollins, the center's director, said he took the extraordinary step of isolating the suspects "because this case evokes a lot of emotion."

The state medical examiner's office was completing an autopsy on Mrs. Basu's body yesterday and would not divulge details about the injuries and cause of death.

Mr. Soloman and the Miller youth drove to Howard County with two other juveniles, a 17-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy, police said. The purpose of the trip was to take the girl to the Woodstock Job Corps Center, a training school and trade center she had paid to attend, police said.

But the group got lost looking for the center and eventually ran out of gas on Interstate 95 before reaching their destination, police said.

Mr. Soloman and the Miller youth went on foot to look for gas while the two others walked off on their own to find a ride to Woodstock. A relative of the 16-year-old later came to Howard County to pick him up.

Mr. Soloman and the teen-ager, meanwhile, allegedly attempted at least one other car hijacking, at a rest area on I-95. Police also received reports that a woman who lives in Mrs. Basu's development was approached by two men who asked her to hand over her car keys but that she screamed and scared them off.

Minutes later, Mr. Soloman and the teen-ager are believed to have taken Mrs. Basu's car, police said.

"I don't think these guys meant to kill anyone," said one police investigator. "They were just hell-bent on getting a car."

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