Guilty plea seen in killings

Serial suspect would receive 4 life terms in city slayings, rapes

August 11, 2006|By JULIE BYKOWICZ | JULIE BYKOWICZ,SUN REPORTER

Raymont Hopewell, accused of being a serial killer who preyed mostly on the elderly, appears ready to plead guilty today in Baltimore Circuit Court to five murders, four rapes and other crimes, defense and prosecution sources confirmed last night.

The plea deal would allow Hopewell, 35, to avoid the death penalty. But it would aim to ensure he is never released from prison by convicting him of at least one count in every crime with which he is charged and sentencing him to one of the longest prison terms any city prosecutor can remember.

If he accepts the deal, Hopewell would be sentenced in a hearing next month to four consecutive terms of life without parole and other prison time. He has been behind bars since his arrest in September.

Assistant State's Attorney Matthew Fraling and defense attorney Richard C.B. Woods have worked out the detailed arrangement over the past few months. A hearing is scheduled today before Circuit Judge John M. Glynn, who is aware of the negotiations.

Hopewell's plea comes at a crucial moment. He is scheduled for trial Sept. 14, and, by law, prosecutors must notify him at least 30 days in advance if they intend to seek the death penalty. If today's deal falls apart, prosecutors still have time to do that.

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, unlike her counterparts in surrounding counties, rarely seeks the death penalty. However, at least four of the five murders with which Hopewell is charged are capital crimes because they were committed alongside another felony.

It is unclear why Hopewell appears willing to plead guilty. Reached yesterday, neither Woods nor Fraling would comment. A court gag order is in place.

A review of police documents shows that DNA evidence linking Hopewell to all five killings, three of which involved rape, and the rape of a woman who lived, appears strong. DNA also was recovered at the sites of the other two killings, according to police.

In addition, police documents show, Hopewell confessed to killing 82-year-old Carlton Crawford last summer, the sole known male victim, though he said it was an accident. He also told police he was at the scene of 78-year-old Lydia Wingfield's rape and killing last summer, though he said he did not commit those crimes

The crime spree targeted older people - most of whom had some connection to him or his family.

His victims would willingly let him in, and, once inside, he seemed to take his time, police documents show. It appears he used a knife to threaten residents.

Some victims were bound at the ankles and wrists, and some were sexually assaulted. Hopewell smoked cigarettes and drank beverages inside the homes. Sometimes he left with a television, other electronics or jewelry, the documents show.

Police have said they investigated other deaths that seemed to fit Hopewell's pattern, but he has not been charged in any additional crimes since being indicted in January on the charges tied to today's expected guilty plea.

The first attack with which Hopewell is charged was on a woman he had met through her grandson.

Constance Wills, 60, was bound and strangled in February 1999 in her Ellamont Avenue home in West Baltimore. She had been raped.

Next came a woman who was friends with and a neighbor of Hopewell's mother.

Sarah Shannon, 88, was bound and strangled Nov. 30, 2002, in her bedroom at Greenhill Apartments on Violet Avenue. She, too, had been raped.

More than two years later, a 78-year-old woman was found dead in her home on North Gilmore Street in Sandtown, two blocks from where Hopewell once lived.

Sadie Mack's wrists had been bound with shoelaces. Police believe Hopewell strangled her May 27, 2005, with his bare hands.

On Aug. 21, police say Hopewell entered a Greenspring Avenue apartment, in the building where the mother of his children used to live.

Hopewell is charged with beating to death Carlton Crawford, 82, who was deaf, and robbing a 31-year-old deaf man who interrupted the attack.

Nine days later, Hopewell is said to have knocked on the door of an older woman on Mount Holly Street, a woman he'd known when he lived in that area as a child.

Lydia Wingfield, 78, was raped and strangled Aug. 30 in her longtime home.

On Sept. 2, a 63-year-old woman was attacked at knifepoint in her West Baltimore home. Her hands were bound with green ribbons and a tailor's measuring tape. She was left alive.

Less than a week later, on Sept. 8, a 55-year-old woman and 61-year-old man were threatened with a knife and attacked in their home on Spaulding Avenue. Two days later, a 67-year-old woman, 80-year-old man and 76-year-old woman were threatened with a knife and attacked in their Fernhill Avenue home.

Hopewell was arrested Sept. 20 and charged with the Crawford killing. Soon after, one of Wingfield's relatives was able to link Hopewell to her death. More connections were made through DNA database hits.

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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