Investigators lack evidence in slayings Arrested man's rifle linked to killings at Loch Raven

Hundreds of leads followed

Suspects have been charged in robberies of banks, bingo hall

July 14, 1996|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Two months after Baltimore County police identified suspects in a double slaying at Loch Raven Reservoir, they still lack crucial evidence needed to bring charges.

Investigators have linked a suspect's assault rifle to one of the June 1995 slayings and are poring over other evidence, including blood and a Donald Duck cap recovered from the scene. Because they have been unable to establish a connection between the suspects and victims -- or pinpoint a motive -- they hope such physical evidence will link the suspects to the crime.

"It's so much harder this way because we don't know where to look," said Lt. Craig Bowers of the homicide unit. "We have to guess at the direction the investigation should take. If we had a clear motive, it would send us in the right direction."

The bodies of Vincent B. Young and Vernon A. Smith were found June 15 in shallow water near the Warren Road bridge. Young, 26, had been shot to death with an assault rifle; Smith, 46, had been beaten to death.

Homicide investigators chased hundreds of leads for 11 months before getting a break in the case.

On May 4, detectives and federal agents raided the Baltimore home of Michael Zenone, 27, and his brother, Anthony J. Zenone, 30, and found the rifle police say was used to kill Young. Police were searching the home because the brothers were suspected in three bank robberies and a Feb. 24 bingo hall robbery.

Ballistic tests showed that the rifle found in the Zenone home, in the 4400 block of Forestview Ave. had been used in the bingo hall robbery and the killing, police said.

The brothers have been charged with robbing the three banks and the bingo hall, but not with the Loch Raven slayings.

Gerald C. Ruter, Michael Zenone's attorney, would not comment on the Loch Raven investigation. But he said the search of his client's home went beyond the scope of the warrant, and he has filed motions in federal court to suppress all evidence taken during the search.

A federal judge has not ruled on that motion.

The trial in the bank robberies is set to begin Sept. 30; no trial date has been set for the bingo hall robbery. If convicted on the three federal bank robbery charges, the brothers could face 50 years in prison; the maximum penalty for the bingo hall robbery, a state offense, is 20 years.

In May, a federal judge refused to set bail for the Zenone brothers, who remain at the Baltimore City Detention Center. That is an advantage for detectives who are sifting through evidence taken from the Zenone house and investigating the brothers' backgrounds.

"Right now we have time on our side," Bowers said. "It's not like they are out on the street. We have the time to methodically go through everything.

"We don't want to charge them until we can make the link. Once they are charged, the 180-day rule kicks in, and if they don't go to trial within that time the charges can be dropped."

The case -- possibly involving the death penalty -- is a complicated one, police say, muddied by missing links and the lack of a solid motive.

Without a clear link between the Zenones and the victims, detectives must make the most of any physical evidence -- such as blood, hair or fingerprints -- that a killer or killers might have left at the crime scene.

The crime scene was bloody, investigators say, and the suspects might have been hurt during a struggle and bled.

Blood samples and the Donald Duck baseball-style cap have been turned over to state police and FBI labs for DNA testing. Those results, which could take months to obtain, can be compared with the Zenones' DNA. A match on the blood or a hair from the cap could provide crucial evidence linking the brothers to the crime scene, Bowers said.

In addition to the rifle, which Bowers said one of the brothers bought from a gun shop, the cap could turn out to be an important piece of evidence. It was found near a pool of blood and had a blood spatter on it, according to an affidavit for the search warrant filed in federal court.

According to the warrant filed by county homicide detectives, investigators showed Anthony Zenone's wife a picture of the cap and she said he had owned an identical cap. According to the warrant, she said her husband is a Disney fan. She told investigators that he got the cap while visiting Disney World with his parents seven years ago, the warrant said.

Detectives have requestioned many of the victims' friends in hopes of finding a link to the Zenones, but Bowers said it is not necessary to pinpoint a motive to get a murder conviction.

Investigators are still working with the theory that Young met the brothers at the reservoir to buy the assault rifle. Smith, who happened to be there fishing, could have been killed because he witnessed Young's death or accidentally came across the body immediately after it happened.

"We may never know the exact motive for this. If we can find some type of trace evidence from the scene and tie it to the Zenones, the evidence will speak for itself," Bowers said.

Pub Date: 7/14/96

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