Fugitive's suicide ends city hunt for officer's killer

Working from tip, police corner suspect in motel

July 08, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

Two hours before dawn yesterday, a squad of armored Baltimore police officers knocked on the faded green door to room 205 of the Relax Inn.

The man they had come to capture -- a fugitive accused of gunning down an officer three days earlier -- was standing on the other side of the door with a gun that had been used to kill that policeman.

For nearly 20 seconds, the officers waited for Charles Bennett to open his door.

When he didn't, they inserted a master key into the lock and eased the door open. Then they heard the gunshot that ended their hunt for the most wanted person in Baltimore.

Several hours later, laboratory tests confirmed that the 9 mm handgun Bennett used to kill himself in a Northwest Baltimore motel yesterday morning was the same gun used Saturday night to kill Baltimore Police Officer Brian D. Winder.

Bennett's death came 79 tense hours after Winder's fatal shooting, five miles away. It had been three days filled with police searching across Baltimore and beyond -- publicly warning that Bennett might flee to Washington or New York, even as they remained convinced he wouldn't stray far from the West Baltimore neighborhoods he had frequented his entire life.

Domestic dispute call

Winder, 36, had responded Saturday night to a 911 domestic dispute call from a West Baltimore woman. The woman told him an armed man had fled her house.

Winder -- a respected officer who was raised in the neighborhood he was patrolling -- found two men standing outside G&G Village Liquors in the 4600 block of Edmondson Ave. He called out and they retreated inside.

Winder requested backup, entered the shop and, at some point, they ambushed him, according to Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark.

The officer was shot five times -- not three, as police said earlier -- and collapsed in the parking lot.

One suspect was cornered by arriving officers and captured, but the second escaped.

During interviews with detectives, the arrested man -- Jermaine A. Gaines, 31 -- said his accomplice was Bennett and that the 33-year-old West Baltimore man had fired the fatal shots, court documents state.

Gaines acknowledged possessing the 9 mm handgun recovered by police inside the liquor store, but he said he hadn't used it, according to documents.

Arrest warrant, search

Armed with the information from Gaines -- who is being held without bail on a first-degree murder charge -- detectives obtained an arrest warrant for Bennett and set out searching.

They interviewed Bennett's friends and family, said Lt. Joseph Conway, the commander of the police warrant apprehension task force.

They put his face on posters and urged local news stations to broadcast his picture.

They had planned to feature him Saturday on the television program America's Most Wanted.

Investigators knew he had friends in New York City; he had been arrested there. They figured that by getting his picture out to the entire country, they could decrease the chances he would flee his home city.

But all along, police privately believed the fugitive was hiding somewhere in the western half of the city.

Keeping up pressure

"The object was to keep the pressure on him and to keep him stationary," Conway said. "We knew that sooner or later he'd make a mistake or someone would call in."

The U.S. Marshals Service and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined the hunt.

The tips started coming in -- increasing sharply after Monday's announcement of a reward, first $30,000, then $35,000. In all, police got about two dozen tips, Conway said.

Most were dismissed quickly, he said, but eight or nine times between Saturday's shooting and Tuesday night, officers from the department's Quick Response Team raced somewhere in the city to search and clear a Baltimore home.

Police declined yesterday to disclose the sites of the unsuccessful raids.

"We were never that close to him until he went to the hotel," Conway said.

As police were still searching Tuesday evening, Bennett checked into the motel in the 5800 block of Reisterstown Road, Conway said. The fugitive used an alias.

About 9 p.m., Conway said, police received the tip that would finally produce results: Bennett was holed up in the Relax Inn. Detectives questioned the tipster -- whose name officials did not release -- and determined that his information was credible.

The motel manager, who refused to give his name, said police arrived about 11 p.m. with a picture of Bennett.

Detectives checked records of who had stayed at the hotel in the past two nights. Bennett wasn't on the list, but hotel management provided a master key to all the rooms.

Conway's squad set up surveillance outside the motel -- where room rents start at $50 a night -- and surrounded it. In all, as many as 50 officers were involved, officials said.

Room-by-room search

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