Trial to start for suspect in '98 death

Authorities believe botched drug robbery led to fatal shooting

Others face charges

Defendant says he wasn't the person who pulled trigger

March 06, 2000|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

More than a year after Donald Ray Mitchell was fatally shot while sitting on a leather couch in a North Laurel apartment, the trial of the man accused of killing him begins in Howard County Circuit Court today.

The case is unusual for Howard County: a homicide that stems from a drug robbery gone awry. And like many drug cases involving several defendants willing to point fingers at each other, jurors might have trouble deciphering the truth. One witness was dealing drugs that night, court records say, and another is a co-defendant who was briefly charged by police as the killer.

So far, prosecutors and police have given few details about what transpired Dec. 10, 1998, when police said three men entered the apartment in the 9500 block of Sylvan Still Road, shot Mitchell, and then demanded drugs and money. Prosecutors declined to say why Mitchell, 43, was at the apartment, but charging documents say he was visiting a friend.

On trial this week is Randall Bagley, 23, who has used several aliases. He is charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery, assault and kidnapping.

In statements to police, Bagley said he and two men decided to visit the apartment of Donovan Bowen to steal cocaine and rob him that night. They scouted out the apartment complex and drove by several times, Bagley said.

Finally, Bagley said, he entered the apartment and noticed Mitchell, sitting on the couch with "the whole leather suit on, and cowboy boots."

Bagley said that after buying drugs, he used a phone to call the other two men into the apartment. Bowen and a would-be robber were counting money when one of the other two robbers shot Mitchell, Bagley said.

Police acknowledge in court documents that the men went to the home to buy cocaine but they say Bagley shot Mitchell and then asked Bowen "where the drugs and money were," court documents say.

The men then stole drugs and led Bowen outside, court records indicate.

Bowen turned and ran as one of the robbers pulled a gun and tried to shoot him but the weapon jammed, police said.

Bowen has identified Bagley as Mitchell's killer, court records show, and the other two robbers have given "statements in reference to the third suspect" -- Bagley -- according to a search warrant.

A week after the shooting, Kevin Anthony Lee, 21, of Severn, turned himself in. Lee, who police initially alleged was the shooter, is expected to testify against Bagley. His defense attorney has indicated in court that Lee, who faces faces assault and robbery charges, plans to plead guilty to unspecified charges March 22.

Six days after Lee turned himself in, police arrested Patrick Sean Gardner, 17, the man accused of trying to shoot Bowen as he fled. Gardner is charged with attempted murder, assault and kidnapping. His trial is scheduled for March 28.

It took police nearly four months to arrest Bagley, whom they mistakenly identified initially as Dwayne West Williams.

On March 6 last year, police pulled over Bagley and his girlfriend as they drove through Norfolk, Va. The girlfriend, who was pregnant, was allowed to take the car and drive home, police said. That day, Bagley gave a statement to police in which he denied involvement in the shooting but admitted to being at the scene.

On March 12, a day after Bagley was questioned again, detectives searched the apartment where Bagley was staying.

According to the search warrant, police were looking for a black semiautomatic handgun, receipts for ammunition, any black military-style pants, notes and diaries, a key lanyard and a black "vest type jacket."

Police found none of those items, the search warrant shows, and it is unclear whether they recovered the gun.

Mitchell's mother and half-brother said they don't know why Mitchell was at Bowen's home. But Otis Blankenship, Mitchell's half-brother, said he knew Mitchell was using drugs at the time and had recently lost his job selling pharmaceuticals.

Mitchell, whose widow declined to be interviewed, grew up near Memphis, Tenn., and graduated from the city's Douglas High School. He attended Lake Forest College near Chicago and moved back to Memphis in 1977, one credit short of graduating, school officials said. Four years later, Mitchell earned his bachelor's degree in biology from Lake Forest.

His 77-year-old mother, Emma Mitchell, said her son was a good boy growing up, always reading books and attending church.

"He just loved to read," she said. "He went to church and school, and never bothered anybody in Memphis."

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