Unusual Twist in the Basu Case

February 18, 1993

It is difficult to imagine anything that would make the carjacking of Pamela Basu last fall more bizarre, more tragic, than it already is. Until this: The Howard County prosecutor, with help from the FBI, is readying for evidence a videotape that Dr. Basu's husband filmed of his wife and child that also inadvertently may show the two men suspected of committing the carjacking later that morning.

Biswanath "Steve" Basu was taking movies of preparations for his daughter's first day at pre-school. The film, shot outside the Basu home in Savage, may show Rodney Soloman, 27, and Bernard Miller, 17, the Washington, D.C., residents charged with robbing Dr. Basu of her car and dragging her to her death last Sept. 8.

News of the footage reminds one of the photograph taken 13 years ago of John Lennon penning an autograph for Mark David Chapman moments before Chapman assassinated the musician. The Basu murder was shocking enough to attract national attention; tape of the suspects filmed by Mr. Basu in what would be his last moments with his wife make the case even more surreal.

Circuit Court Judge Raymond Kane Jr. did the right thing by postponing the trials to allow the prosecution to prepare and analyze this evidence. Defense lawyers complained the state's attorney's office has been laggard in providing information. Indeed, a prosecutor's response to that criticism ("It's not a perfect world. There are other major cases. We have to do more with less.") is lame.

Judging from the furor that followed confused signals last fall over whether the state would seek the death penalty in this case, the prosecutor's office must realize the weight and emotionalism this murder carries. The case fixed a spotlight on a brutal and vulgar expression of crime, which is still with us. Sunday night in Philadelphia, three armed carjackers killed a man as he sat outside his church awaiting his wife. Like Dr. Basu, the victim was a brilliant scientist in his 30s and his murderers also temporarily took his infant with his car.

Considering all the anger from politicians and the public following the Basu death, it seemed unusual that a legislative committee this week rejected as overkill a proposal by the governor to mandate a minimum of 15 years for carjacking. The brutality of this crime still horrifies a public that's been dulled to the commonness of drug slayings. Even more so because of a home movie of some final, peaceful family moments, the Basu trials, now scheduled for May, will hold us transfixed.

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