Man's death leaves questions for police

Suspect shot by officer may have had details on woman's death

Her case `suspicious'

Pawned items led investigators to home in N.E. Baltimore

June 04, 2000|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A burglary suspect shot and killed by a Baltimore police officer Wednesday had also been wanted for questioning in the mysterious death three months ago of a 47-year-old woman whose body was found in the house that had been burglarized.

Police say that might help explain why Raymond Askins went into the bathroom of a rowhouse, stabbed himself repeatedly in the chest and allegedly lunged at an officer who was trying to arrest him on the burglary warrant. The officer shot him once in the chest.

The 39-year-old man's death may eliminate any chance of learning more about how Denise Larcel Harris died in early March inside her Ednor Gardens house near Memorial Stadium in Northeast Baltimore.

An autopsy and months of tests have failed to determine the cause of her death.

Askins was charged with burglary after police said he sold Harris' videocassette recorder and karaoke machine to a local pawnshop and registered the transaction using his name. Detectives routinely check pawnshop records.

Askins knew Harris because he had dated her sister, Sharon Goines.

Relatives found Harris' body March 6, lying face down on her kitchen floor, her jewelry and appliances missing. She might have been killed, but police said she might also have suffered a heart attack and hit her head when she fell before, during or after the burglary.

"The whole thing is a tragedy," said her sister, Wanda Goines. "Both families knew each other. We are both suffering. It has devastated my whole family."

Knowing how Harris, who was called Aunt Pennie, died is important to family members.

"I want closure," Goines said. "I want to know what she died from. We want to know."

Doctors with the state medical examiner's office met with city police detectives Friday morning but reported no progress. The official cause of her death is listed as suspicious.

"I wouldn't want to be in the position the family is in," said Detective Donald V. Bradshaw of the homicide unit. "I can't imagine how frustrating it is. I feel bad every time I call them and tell them I don't have any answers."

Police were hoping that Askins' arrest could shed light on what happened to Harris. They traced him to a Northeast Baltimore rowhouse owned by his uncle, Willie M. Richburg, and officers showed up there at 6 a.m. Wednesday.

Richburg let the officers in, where police said they encountered a calm and friendly Askins. He asked to use the bathroom, and the officers agreed. Inside, police said he grabbed a kitchen knife that was on the floor and began stabbing himself in the chest.

An officer pushed in the door and police said Askins lunged at him with the knife in one hand. The officer fired one shot. The Police Department's second fatal shooting in as many days prompted Commissioner Edward T. Norris to drive to the scene to try to ease concern among neighbors angered by the use of deadly force.

Norris told reporters at the scene that his officers might have erred when they allowed Askins to go into the bathroom alone before placing him under arrest. But he described the shooting as justified, saying the officer's "life was in grave danger."

He noted Askins' lengthy record -- 14 arrests in the past 10 years -- which includes two convictions for drug possession. Residents complained at the time that Askins' criminal past was irrelevant.

Authorities describing the burglary last week did not mention Harris' death or that Askins was wanted for questioning in a possible homicide. They said later that releasing the information might have hurt their investigation. Harris' family is left to wonder if they will ever know what happened.

Harris worked for Johns Hopkins Hospital for 10 years before starting "Denise Day Care" in her home. At Hopkins, she was a clinical supervisor in the Nutrition Department and boss of a coffee bar.

The avid churchgoer and former teachers' aide enjoyed sports and taking pictures of her family; she turned her dining room into what friends described at her funeral as "a virtual museum of treasured pictures of her loved ones."

Harris met Askins about two decades ago when he started dating her sister, Sharon Goines. That relationship lasted until about five years ago, but family members said the two remained friends. Harris was last seen alive at 1: 15 a.m. March 4, when a friend dropped her off at her home. Police said she complained to her companion that she was not feeling well.

Her body was discovered at 7: 30 a.m. March 6 by another sister, Venessa Goines, and Venessa's son, Tyler Goines, 8. They called police, then realized that jewelry, appliances, a VCR and a Nintendo game were missing.

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