Carter's escape: less than a master plot

January 21, 1993|By David Simon | David Simon,Staff Writer Staff writers Thomas W. Waldron, Joe Nawrozki and Jay Apperson contributed to this article.

For all of its immediate drama, the escape of convicted killer Dontay Carter from a bathroom window at the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse appears to have been something less than the plot of a master criminal. In fact, say police sources, Carter's 28-hour run was long on opportunity, short on planning.

"He's nothing but a kid," says one veteran investigator. "He did all the dumb things a kid would do. He ran away and hid and waited for us."

Police know of no substantive attempt by Carter to escape Baltimore. Instead, the 19-year-old fugitive appears to have gone directly to a Northeast Baltimore apartment, leaving a trail of witnesses and phone calls that detectives could follow. Later, as police gathered outside the apartment window to wait for a search warrant, he burrowed in some bedding as if that somehow made him invisible.

All of which is a far cry from the role Dontay Carter seems so determined to cast for himself. From the viciousness of his February crime spree -- in which he robbed and killed one victim, and allegedly kidnapped two others -- to his street-hardened testimony at his first trial, Carter appears to revel in his own notoriety. But for all his supposed cleverness and calculation, Carter's escape was relatively short work for investigators who, in five common-sense steps, concluded a manhunt that involved a half-dozen law enforcement agencies by tracking him to his hideout on Goodnow Road.

Step 1: They reviewed prison records to see who visited Carter and what addresses they gave to authorities.

Step 2: They raided those locations.

Step 3: They learned the identities of the people they found living there.

Step 4: They brought those people downtown and grilled them until one witness acknowledged that Carter had called her. She further admitted that she had "Caller ID" on her telephone and that she had recorded the number from which Carter called.

Step 5: They served a subpoena on the telephone company for the address of that extension and then, finally, they surrounded the apartment building.

Carter initially told detectives that after he jumped from the courthouse window, he ran for a block or so, then walked briskly to the East Lombard Street taxi stand at the Stouffer's Hotel at The Gallery and hailed a cab. He told detectives he had the fare. Although cash is prohibited in state correctional facilities, it's as easy to acquire as drugs, homemade knives and every other kind of contraband, detectives say.

In his interview with detectives, Carter claimed that he visited his mother and stopped at a local hotel before proceeding to Goodnow Road, but investigators say they have largely disproved such an account. Instead, they suspect that Carter had the taxi go directly to the Goodnow Road address.

In fact, Carter's access to that Northeast Baltimore apartment is the only detail of the escape that suggests to investigators that he didn't impulsively leap from the lavatory window at the first opportunity, but instead formed the first few shards of a plan.

Detectives say a teen-age friend who grew up with Carter in East Baltimore lives in the apartment -- though it's rented in the names of two women -- and it appeared Carter had made some prior arrangement to stay there.

"The only way for him to get word out of the Pen is through visitors and through mail," says one police source. "But right now, it seems like when he got up there, he definitely knew how to get hold of a key."

After Carter's recapture, the friend approached Baltimore school security police, who turned him over to homicide detectives. He said that while he knows the fugitive, he couldn't understand how Carter got inside his apartment, sources say. Police are continuing to investigate the matter.

But whatever cleverness brought him safely to the apartment was squandered when Carter used the apartment telephone, rather than venturing to an outside pay phone. In that way, the fugitive left a ready-made trail for investigators.

In fact, the phone proved to be quite a temptation for the fugitive. Correction division sources say that 40 minutes after his escape, Carter called the security chief at the Maryland Penitentiary, Theodore Purnell, and offered a few taunting threats.

Police believe that this too, was all performance: By taking some recent actions against drug smuggling at the Pen, Chief Purnell has earned the special enmity of prisoners. Carter's call is thought to be an act calculated to raise his own status with fellow inmates at the maximum-security facility.

"He knew he was going back there eventually," says one detective.

If that was Carter's logic, he will likely be undone by the details of his capture. Correctional sources say the image of the young killer hiding under sheets and pillows is now the talk of the Pen and the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center where he is now detained.

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