Police had to wait to charge Abeokuto

Suspect in killing of girl `mocked us' before he fled, detective testifies

August 26, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Her body was partially snow-covered and frozen, crumpled in the tangled bramble of the woods. The pale pink winter coat she wore was splattered with blood. Her right hand clutched brittle leaves that covered the ground.

It wasn't until two boys on their way home from middle school happened upon the gruesome scene of 8-year-old Marciana Ringo's killing that police could finally charge the man they had suspected all along in her disappearance, Jamaal K. Abeokuto, investigators testified yesterday during the third day of the 24-year-old Baltimore man's murder trial.

Abeokuto is being tried on charges that he kidnapped and killed Marciana, his girlfriend's daughter, on Dec. 3, 2002, slitting her throat and leaving her to die in a wooded area near Joppatowne in Harford County. After Abeokuto requested a change of venue, the trial was moved to Baltimore County Circuit Court, where a judge -- not a jury -- is hearing the case that could bring the death penalty if Abeokuto is convicted.

Although the investigation started as a missing-person case, police quickly detected inconsistencies in Abeokuto's account of his time with Marciana the morning she disappeared, and Abeokuto was shuttled to police headquarters, according to police testimony.

From the time police picked him up Dec. 3, Abeokuto spent about 29 hours with Baltimore police. But despite finding bloody jeans they suspected belonged to him and catching Abeokuto in several lies about his whereabouts the day the girl went missing, investigators still didn't have enough evidence to charge him with a crime, according to police testimony.

Robert Patton, a Baltimore police homicide detective, testified that Abeokuto ridiculed him as officers drove the man to his mother's house in the early morning hours of Dec. 5.

"He mocked us to the fact that we hadn't charged him," Patton told the judge. "He said we didn't have enough evidence to say he did anything."

During a brief cross-examination, defense attorney Warren A. Brown questioned why the detective did not make any written record of Abeokuto's comments in the car. Patton simply said he had not done so.

"Believe me, at that point we didn't want to take him home," Patton said in an interview after his testimony. "But we had to wait for the DNA. It was all circumstantial, and based on what we had, it wasn't enough."

Abeokuto was arrested two days later, Dec. 7, on misdemeanor handgun charges unrelated to Marciana's disappearance. He posted bond the next day. But he had disappeared two days later, by the time authorities matched to Abeokuto a fingerprint lifted off a ransom note mailed to Marciana's mother, allowing them to file federal extortion charges, according to court documents.

They added first-degree murder charges after Marciana's body was discovered Dec. 12. Abeokuto was arrested Christmas Eve at an Alabama hotel after a two-week, nationwide manhunt and a police standoff.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger Sr. also heard yesterday from a Baltimore police evidence specialist and a state police crime scene technician.

Salvatore Bianca, a criminalist in Baltimore's police crime lab, said he found human blood as well as body tissue -- skin, parts of organs and muscle tissue -- on a pair of cotton work gloves found near the apartment where the victim lived. Other witnesses have testified that the gloves were identical to pairs found in Abeokuto's car, as well as the kind issued by Abeokuto's employer at an Aberdeen grocery warehouse.

Bianca said he also found human blood on jeans linked to Abeokuto and detected the "possible presence of blood" on a sock and Timberland boots that Abeokuto wore to the police station Dec. 3.

Ronald Bevans, a state police crime scene technician, also testified, describing photographs he took in the woods where Marciana's body was found.

As the photographs flashed on a screen, Abeokuto looked away and Marciana's relatives wept or ran from the courtroom.

The medical examiner and the DNA examiner are scheduled to testify today.

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