2 men indicted in 1996 homicides 3 Washington women were fatally shot, left on Beltsville road

December 22, 1998|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

A federal grand jury has indicted two men on murder charges in the 1996 killings of three Washington women whose bodies were found shot in the southbound lane of a rural Beltsville road.

Willis Mark Haynes, 21, of Bowie and Dustin John Higgs, 26, of Laurel were charged with three counts of murder, three counts of kidnapping and three counts of use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence, U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia said yesterday.

A third man, Vincent Gloria, 24, of Laurel pleaded guilty Friday to being an accessory-after-the-fact to the killings, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

Haynes and Higgs are charged with killing Tamika Black, a teacher's aide at a parochial school; Tanji Jackson, an employee at Eleanor Roosevelt High School; and Mishann Chinn, who worked with a Temple Hills church choir. Their clothed bodies were found on Route 197 near Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in the early hours of Jan. 27, 1996.

Black, 19, and Jackson, 21, each had been shot twice, and Chinn, 23, was shot once, autopsies later showed. Two of the women apparently had been run over by a vehicle. Their bodies showed no sign of robbery or sexual assault.

Battaglia said she might seek the death penalty against Haynes and Higgs, who were in federal custody when they were indicted. Higgs is serving a 17-year sentence for a drug conviction; Haynes is awaiting trial after being arrested on drug charges with Gloria in October.

Battaglia declined to discuss the investigation yesterday, including the question of motive.

But one source said the women's killings were not linked to drugs, but stemmed from a "stupid" argument between Higgs xTC and one of the women.

When the men, whom the women thought were driving them home, stopped along the road, one of the women was shot in the head; the other two were gunned down as they tried to run away, the source said.

Battaglia said members of her office were meeting with family members of the victims yesterday and that their wishes would be taken into consideration as she determines whether to recommend seeking the death penalty in the case. The ultimate decision, Battaglia said, rests with U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

The killings were investigated by federal agents, including the U.S. Park Police, FBI and Secret Service, in addition to Maryland state and Prince George's County police, because they took place on federal land.

David Knowlton, special agent in charge of the FBI in Baltimore, said of the victims' families: "I hope that today's indictments will bring some closure to this long ordeal for them."

Stephen Gaston of Washington, Tamika Black's uncle, said he was relieved at the filing of charges.

"I know it took a long time, but they say patience is a virtue," Gaston said last night.

John Chamble, Haynes' federal public defender, said yesterday he had "absolutely no comment" on the case. Timothy J. Sullivan, Higgs' lawyer, did not return a telephone call.

Paul Kemp, Gloria's lawyer, also declined to comment on his client's role, noting that details of Gloria's guilty plea remain under seal.

Court records show that investigators considered one of the men a suspect two months after the women were killed.

In documents filed in connection with Higgs' earlier drug case, police wrote that Higgs answered questions about the killings in March 1996, the same day investigators served a search warrant at his Laurel apartment to investigate a series of stolen checks. Agents found a loaded semiautomatic handgun and crack cocaine.

Haynes and Higgs had been charged together in December 1995 with assault and battery and reckless endangerment for firing handguns into a Laurel home, court records showed.

Pub Date: 12/22/98

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