Arrest ends run, eases tensions Hearing for Garris, suspect in slaying, is tomorrow in Va.

October 29, 1995|By Jay Apperson and Dan Thanh Dang | Jay Apperson and Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Greg Tasker contributed to this article.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- Tired, handcuffed and shackled, 16-year-old Benjamin Scott Garris was led from a juvenile jail yesterday to await a court hearing that could lead to his return to Baltimore County on adult murder charges.

His arrest and tomorrow's extradition hearing have put an end to three weeks of running for the youth accused in the stabbing death Oct. 8 of a counselor at a Towson psychiatric hospital. It has also halted the tension triggered by writings he left behind -- writings that hinted he would lead a crime spree reminiscent of such violent movies as "A Clockwork Orange" and "Natural Born Killers."

But there was no spree of violence and mayhem. The Frederick youth -- sporting a shaved head and goatee -- was captured without incident Friday after, police allege, he shoplifted four packs of Camel Light cigarettes, Reese's peanut butter cups and a pack of Wrigley's spearmint gum at a Virginia Beach 7-Eleven store.

Last night, police were still looking for Jane DeCosta, the 15-year-old Timonium girl believed to have been traveling with the Garris youth. A young woman was spotted outside the store where he was captured, but she was gone when police arrived.

Officer Michael Carey, a Virginia Beach police spokesman, said the Garris youth is expected to be transferred to the custody of Baltimore County authorities after tomorrow's hearing at 8 a.m.

"He's been cooperating, and indications are he's going to waive [extradition]," Officer Carey said. Although the teen faces an adult murder charge in Maryland, Virginia law requires that he be treated as a juvenile pending extradition, the officer added.

Baltimore attorney Howard Cardin said yesterday that he has been asked by the youth's family to represent him. "However," Mr. Cardin said, "I have not had the opportunity to speak to him. I am optimistic that he will be able to reach me by phone and I will be able to talk to him. When I do, decisions will be made."

Police said the Garris youth has begun to provide details about how he avoided capture after being charged in the slaying of Sharon Edwards, 26, a Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital counselor who was working her first night shift on Oct. 8.

The Garris youth told police that he and the DeCosta youth "wanted to come to an area where the weather was warmer," according to Officer Carey.

Police believe that the teens took a bus to Virginia Beach and were there for at least a week, possibly as long as three weeks. While in Virginia Beach, they lived in shelters and in the woods, befriending other teens along the way, police said.

Police do not think local teens knew that the Garris youth was wanted. "He kept that a pretty good secret," Officer Carey said.

According to the youth's parents, Benjamin, who talked to his mother yesterday, was about to turn himself in.

Benjamin said he was all right, but "bummed out" about his situation, said his father, Robert Steven Garris, who lives in Frederick.

The youth also told his mother that he had no place to stay in Virginia Beach, Mr. Garris said.

Mr. Garris said that his son wanted the DeCosta family to know that Jane had also shaved her head and that she had voluntarily traveled with him. The teens met at a Sheppard Pratt school.

Police believe that she ran off when the Garris youth was detained Friday night by 7-Eleven clerk Lee Paige, 50, who suspected the boy of shoplifting. Mr. Paige said the youth had been frequenting the store with a group of teens since Monday.

Officer Carey said the Garris youth was taken from the store to a precinct station, where he initially identified himself as Ernest Hemingway from Boston. Already suspicious because of the name, police confronted him with the fact that the Social Security number he gave them would not have been issued in Boston.

The teen then gave his real name, and a computer check with the National Crime Information Center in Washington, D.C., showed he was a fugitive. Virginia Beach homicide detectives were alerted and called their counterparts in Baltimore County. County detectives Carroll Bollinger and Mike Hill were in Virginia Beach yesterday to question the youth.

After receiving a routine medical examination yesterday, the Garris youth was taken to the Tidewater Detention Home in nearby Chesapeake, Va., where he was to remain until his hearing.

Officer Carey said the DeCosta girl's description was broadcast hourly to more than 100 Virginia Beach patrol officers, but there have been no sightings of her.

The 7-Eleven at Baltic Avenue and 22nd Street, where the Garris youth was taken into custody, is five blocks from the Atlantic Ocean, but it is outside the tourist strip in a neighborhood of single-family homes occupied by year-round residents. The store also is on the main road that leads from the resort area to Interstate 44, a fact that tempered police optimism about locating the DeCosta girl.

"She could be anywhere by now," Officer Carey said.

As for the DeCosta family, they said they can only wait.

"At least now we know what area she's in," said Peggy DeCosta, Jane's mother. "We have a lot of confidence in the police. We were hoping that the two were at the end of their rope.

"No matter how tough they were, they're still teen-agers," she added. "We don't know what she's been doing, and we don't know if she's been breaking any laws. We just pray for her safe return home."

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