Theft linked to slayings in Arundel

May 18, 1994|By Kris Antonelli and Peter Hermann | Kris Antonelli and Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writers

The two Bethesda lawyers killed at their weekend retreat in Arnold were shot in the back of the head in an apparent robbery, Anne Arundel County police said yesterday.

The dark red Acura Legend that had been taken from the home of Julie Noel Gilbert, 48, and her husband Jose E. Trias, 49, was found by police in the 900 block of E. 20th St. in East Baltimore. It was taken back to police headquarters to be searched for evidence.

A handyman found the bodies of Mr. Trias and his wife lying in the bed of their weekend home in the 1600 block of Father Urban Lane about noon Monday. They had been dead for at least 48 hours, police said, and there were no signs of forced entry.

Mr. Trias was vice president and general counsel for Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the largest private philanthropy in the country. Ms. Gilbert worked for the Washington law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. The couple lived in the 5300 bock of Duvall Drive in Bethesda.

News of the slayings shocked the couple's co-workers, some of whom gathered yesterday at the downtown Washington law firm where Ms. Gilbert worked. One of the couple's colleagues called the killings "a terrible tragedy none of us can understand."

"If a friend dies of a heart attack, well that happens," said Sheldon S. Cohen, chairman of the tax section of the firm where Ms. Gilbert worked. "But we don't normally have a friend meet this senseless, meaningless end."

Investigators said the two-story home in the secluded Winchester community near Annapolis was not ransacked. They were trying to determine what has been taken. They are also questioning the couple's co-workers, relatives and acquaintances.

"At this point, everyone is a suspect," said Officer Randy Bell, a police spokesman.

The couple's co-workers became suspicious when they did not show up at their jobs Monday morning. A secretary at Ms. Gilbert's firm called a handyman who had a key to the house and asked him to check on the couple. He called police after finding the bodies.

Yesterday, homicide investigators continued combing the waterfront home for evidence. The street in the affluent community remained blocked off.

"We are doing this very methodically," Officer Bell said.

The couple bought the home, on seven acres on the banks of the Severn River, about five years ago and had been doing extensive renovations, including adding a piano room. The work was nearly finished. The drove to the home every Friday evening after work and didn't leave until Monday morning.

"They loved it," said Dr. Purnell W. Choppin, president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. "It was a place they could go and relax in on the weekends."

At a news conference yesterday in Washington, Dr. Choppin and Mr. Cohen described the couple as dedicated, intelligent lawyers -- he graduated from Yale, she from Harvard -- who excelled in their fields and quickly rose to the top of their profession.

Mr. Trias, who was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, gave up a partnership in a prestigious law firm to join the institute full-time in 1992. He had been an outside counsel there since 1985.

The organization, which has $7 billion in assets, is second only to the National Institutes of Health in sponsoring basic medical research. Over the past several years, it has financed new buildings and laboratories and hired some of the brightest scientists in the country.

"Mr. Trias was just a truly marvelous human being," Dr. Choppin said. "He was warm and very gentle. He was a brilliant lawyer."

Ms. Gilbert was a standout in her own right. Hired out of law school by the specialized tax firm Cohen & Uretz, she became partner in 1985 when the firm merged with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.

Mr. Cohen, who hired Mrs. Gilbert, said she struck him as being an unusual young lawyer "who had a lot of promise . . . She had a good flair of taking very difficult material and making it understandable to the layman. . . . She was a very persuasive and knowledgeable person in her field."

Ms. Gilbert specialized in representing nonprofit organizations, including universities, museums, historic preservation groups and foundations. Her clients included the Smithsonian, National Geographic and the Second Harvest food bank.

The couple married about eight years ago after meeting at a work-related function.

Mr. Trias, whose father is a former Puerto Rican Supreme Court justice, had two children from a previous marriage, a 14-year-old daughter and a son who is a freshman at Yale Law School.

"All who met Jose were tremendously impressed by his ability, his humanness," Dr. Choppin said. "He was a real scholar and a gentleman."

Funeral plans were incomplete yesterday, Dr. Choppin said.

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