2 teens held in mall killing

Tip leads to Mercury Cougar seen leaving Towson garage

February 22, 2005|By Laura Barnhardt and Anica Butler | Laura Barnhardt and Anica Butler,SUN STAFF

Two Baltimore County teens were charged yesterday with murder in the shotgun killing of a popular private-school educator during a botched robbery Friday at Towson Town Center.

The two were arrested Sunday after a tip from a motorist who had seen two men driving away, and, for reasons police would not divulge, jotted down a description and license plate of the suspects' car, police said yesterday.

John Edward Kennedy, 18, of the 1200 block of S. Marlyn Ave. in Essex, and Javon Clark, 18, of the first block of Old Knife Court in Middle River, were charged yesterday with first-degree murder.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Sun about a shooting at Towson Town Center gave an incorrect spelling for the name of the mall's general manager. He is Charles Crerand.

William A. Bassett, 58, was shot in the head with a shotgun during what is often a busy shopping hour outside an upscale mall popular with youths. The brazen crime has renewed concerns about security at the mall and also shaken staff and students at the private St. Paul's School in Brooklandville where Bassett was a science teacher and dean of faculty, overseeing hiring and professional development.

`Needle in the haystack'

"Without the information from that citizen, we would not have a resolution in this case so quickly," said Bill Toohey, a county police spokesman.

Detectives received a number of tips but ultimately it was the vehicle information that enabled detectives to track the suspects, Toohey said at a news conference yesterday. He described the tip as the proverbial "needle in the haystack" that led police to the suspects.

After interviewing Kennedy and Clark, police arrested them Sunday evening.

Kennedy told detectives "that he attempted to rob the victim and then he shot him with his shotgun," according to charging documents filed in District Court in Towson. Clark said he drove Kennedy to the mall so "that they could rob someone," the court papers say. Police said they found a shotgun that they believe was used to kill Bassett hidden in Kennedy's home.

Kennedy, a 2004 graduate of Chesapeake High School, and Clark, a 2004 graduate of Kenwood High, were being held yesterday without bail at the Baltimore County Detention Center. Bail review hearings are scheduled for today.

As a matter of policy, police declined to identify the tipster or to say whether he heard the shotgun blast or noticed something else suspicious. But Toohey said the man, who was driving past the mall Friday night, saw a mid-1980s Mercury Cougar leaving the mall garage and turning onto Joppa Road. He wrote down the tag number and make and model of the car.

Upon hearing of the Bassett killing, the man gave the information to a friend in the Baltimore County police intelligence unit, who relayed the tip to homicide detectives, Toohey said.

Clark, who owns the Mercury, drove up to Bassett in the garage, police said. Kennedy told detectives he got out of the car with the shotgun and attempted to rob Bassett, then shot him, court papers say.

It does not appear that either suspect knew Bassett, Toohey said.

"He was alone in an area that was not real busy," Toohey said. "He may have seemed vulnerable to them."

It was unclear yesterday whether Bassett refused to hand over his money. Bassett still had his wallet when his body was found, Toohey said.

A mall employee found Bassett's body about 8 p.m. Friday on the fifth level of the parking garage near Nordstrom, police said. The Roland Park resident and father of two had been hit in the head with a shotgun blast.

`Some sense of comfort'

St. Paul's headmaster, Thomas J. Reid, said yesterday that he was relieved that police had made arrests in the case.

"I do think it provides some sense of comfort," he said. "To not have any closure would have been very difficult."

The Rev. Mike Wallens, the school's chaplain, said he was reassured that suspects are in custody. "It's good to know they're not out on the loose," he said.

Wallens said he had spoken with Bassett's wife, Susan, and that she was "grateful to the police for all of their hard work and diligence. But she knows it all won't bring Bill back."

Mall managers declined to talk yesterday about any new measures they might take to improve security. "We constantly review our security plans and update them," said Charles Cerand, the general manager at Towson Town Center.

There are no surveillance cameras in the garage where Bassett was shot, Toohey said. There are call boxes at stairwell entrances on each floor.

Other recent crimes at the mall include the robbery of a 26-year-old woman who was struck in the face several times by a man who stole her purse Nov. 13. Earlier this month, three men stopped a shopper in the garage and asked him for a cigarette and bus fare, then robbed him of $300.

Toohey said no evidence has been found to link either suspect in the Bassett killing to other crimes at the mall. Considering the number of people who work and shop there, the shopping center is "actually quite safe," Toohey said.

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