A 27-year-old Baltimore man, described as the former boyfriend of Linda Trinh's sorority sister, was arrested yesterday and charged with murdering the Johns Hopkins University senior in January -- a crime that shook the elite college's campus and prompted security improvements.
City police arrested Donta Maurice Allen about 10:30 a.m. yesterday at a relative's house near Waverly, after he was matched to DNA found at the crime scene, according to police and court records.
Allen's lawyer described him as a Perry Hall High School graduate who has worked odd restaurant jobs and enjoyed hanging out around the Johns Hopkins campus, even though he was never a student there.
"He seems kind of laid back, hippyish," said defense attorney Warren A. Brown. "He liked being part of the culture."
On Jan. 23, a roommate discovered the body of Trinh, 21, inside their apartment on the second-story of a high-rise across the street from the university.
She was found in the bathtub, half-clothed, and police initially classified her death as a possible suicide by drowning, according to court documents filed this week. The next day, the state medical examiner ruled it a homicide by asphyxiation.
The killing caused an uproar among students who said they didn't feel safe. It drew attention from across the city and beyond, so much so that Mayor Martin O'Malley issued a statement last night offering condolences to the family.
Trinh's killing came about nine months after another student, Christopher Elser, was stabbed in his fraternity house.
University officials pledged $2 million to hire additional security guards and hastened the installation of security cameras around the campus and surrounding neighborhood.
Police immediately sought to calm fears by telling students that Elser's unsolved homicide was unrelated to Trinh's killing and that the slaying of the biomedical engineering major did not appear to be a random attack. Behind the scenes, they expressed confidence that the case could be solved, largely because of what they described as a wealth of physical evidence at the scene.
They questioned an apartment complex maintenance man who apparently entered Trinh's apartment to relight an appliance pilot light -- possibly while Trinh was dead in the bathtub. But that employee was quickly eliminated as a possible suspect.
An early suspect
Within 24 hours, Allen was on the police list of suspects, said Maj. Richard C. Fahlteich, commander of the homicide detectives section.
Allen had been seen on surveillance tape going in and out of the apartment complex, The Charles at 3333 N. Charles St., and police said he had no reason to be there.
On Jan. 29, as police were eyeing him, Allen turned to Brown, one of the city's best-known criminal defense attorneys. Allen told police that he had been in Trinh's apartment Jan. 22 -- the last day she was seen alive -- to use her cellular phone, according to Brown. Allen's ex-girlfriend lives in Trinh's apartment building and is a member of the same sorority, Brown said.
On Jan. 31, police took swabs from Allen's mouth to make comparative DNA tests, according to court records. Detectives submitted the evidence, continued working the case and waited for results.
"Only on CSI do we do things overnight," Fahlteich said.
This week, the test results revealed that, according to court records, "DNA belonging to Mr. Allen was found on the victim."
An arrest made
Detectives obtained an arrest warrant Tuesday afternoon, and served it at a house in the 3000 block of Mathews St., where a cousin last night said Allen stayed periodically.
Surprised neighbors watched from their windows as police led Allen out of a brick rowhouse. Police closed the block while arresting him, residents said.
Several hours after Allen's arrest, detectives were interviewing him at police headquarters, and Brown said his client -- despite his instructions -- was apparently answering at least some of their questions.
Police have not determined a motive, Fahlteich said. There were no signs of forced entry into Trinh's apartment, there was nothing missing and there is no evidence that she was sexually assaulted.
But Fahlteich described Allen as someone who would have been an unwelcome guest at Trinh's apartment. "I seriously doubt as I stand here that she would have let him in willingly," Fahlteich said.
Police have not said exactly when they believe Trinh was killed. One of her roommates saw her at about 3:30 p.m. Jan. 22, but that roommate could not get back into their apartment that night, police have said.
When she was let in the next day at 12:30 p.m. by apartment complex employees, she discovered Trinh's body.
Trinh, of Silver Spring, was the former president of Alpha Phi sorority, a former volleyball team member and a university research assistant. She wanted to pursue a medical degree.