NYC slaying inquiry focuses on bouncer

March 10, 2006|By ELLEN BARRY | ELLEN BARRY,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW YORK -- It has been nearly two weeks since Imette St. Guillen's body was found along a desolate roadside in Brooklyn, and many New Yorkers can recite from memory the shreds of evidence in the case: the hotel-grade floral quilt wrapped around her, the cat hairs adhering to it, the tube sock stuffed in her mouth.

Those who have followed news coverage of her slaying speculate about what happened about 3:30 a.m. that Saturday, when St. Guillen, a 24-year-old graduate student in criminal justice, decided to keep drinking alone at a bar after her girlfriend headed home. Or what happened a half-hour later at closing time, when St. Guillen, apparently intoxicated, was the last patron left at The Falls.

This week, investigators continued to focus on Darryl Littlejohn, 41, a bouncer with a history of felony convictions. He has never been accused of a sex crime. Earlier, authorities removed potential evidence - including seats from a van - from Littlejohn's home in Queens and searched a gray van found nearby.

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly did not call Littlejohn a suspect. "He's clearly a person of interest in this case," Kelly said in an interview with NY1, a cable news channel. "We are waiting for lab results."

The bouncer is being held on charges of violating parole but has not been charged in St. Guillen's death.

In New York, recently lauded by the FBI as the "safest big city in America," the grad student's slaying has gotten under people's skin.

Charly Wilder, a bartender at Gatsby's, near the spot where St. Guillen was last seen alive, said she listened in on one group of young people the next Saturday night and realized that they were tracing the victim's steps through SoHo.

"I don't remember the last time a crime hit this close to home," said Wilder, 23. "People don't think of this as a dangerous neighborhood, and they think of crime as more of an '80s thing."

St. Guillen went out drinking that evening in a neighborhood that has left behind its skid row image. These days, Bowery bars are flanked by boutiques selling French bath salts and gourmet cheesecake.

As closing time approached at the Pioneer Bar, according to investigators, the friend who was with St. Guillen - a schoolteacher and high school classmate - decided to head home. St. Guillen stayed. A little later, the friend called to make sure St. Guillen was all right. She said she was.

The next evening, an anonymous call to 911 led police to her body. It was under a streetlight in a bleak section of Brooklyn, naked and wrapped in a quilt. She had been raped and asphyxiated, her hands bound, a sock stuffed in her mouth and tape stripped over her face, according to news reports.

The investigation increasingly has focused on events that occurred about 4 a.m. at The Falls, after staff members locked the doors and pulled down a metal grating.

For the first several days after the slaying, bartender Dan Dorrian told police that St. Guillen had left the bar alone. But late last week, according to news reports, Dorrian offered a different account: that St. Guillen would not leave the bar and he had asked Littlejohn to remove her.

Littlejohn told a New York Daily News reporter he was not involved in the St. Guillen slaying.

Uptown, at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice where St. Guillen was finishing her master's degree, the case has crept into the curriculum. Lawrence Kobilinsky, a professor of forensic science, spent much of one recent class using the case as an illustration.

Even in crimes that hit painfully close to home, "you push all those feelings aside and have hard evidence. Right now, the loop has to be closed," he said. "There's no arrest because they haven't closed the loop."

In interviews, several John Jay students complained about the breathless news coverage of the case, saying it should not overshadow chronic violence that occurs in New York neighborhoods. Many, though, have penned raw condolences in a book; one wrote, "Imette - I can't even tell you how many times I have been drunk like this. You are a beautiful and innocent person."

Young people know what it's like to try to look after friends at the end of a night of drinking, said Hanif Peters-Davis.

"You've probably put someone in a cab or said goodbye and thought they would take care of themselves," said Peters-Davis, 28, a graduate student in forensic psychology. "So in that sense, there is a collective consciousness."

Ellen Barry writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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