It wasn't suicide, she says

Crofton man's sister wants further inquiry into his shooting death

August 17, 2008|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

For Margaret Padilla, the reminders of her brother's death are everywhere. Since January, the Florida resident has been living in his Crofton townhouse, sleeping in his bedroom, cooking food in his kitchen and watching television on his couch. But the door to the room where police say he was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound is kept shut.

Anne Arundel County police say that Luis Padilla's death was a clear suicide. His sister is unconvinced of that.

Margaret Padilla hired a private investigator and has been gathering police documents, writing letters to public officials and researching police procedures in an effort to get police to take a closer look at her brother's case. Key evidence has been overlooked, she says, and she can't leave until her questions are answered.

"I want to get justice," said Margaret Padilla. "As long as it takes. If I have to be here 20 years, I'll be here 20 years."

Luis Padilla was a federal employee working for the Census Bureau, an avid salsa dancer and lifelong bachelor who also held a part-time job at a hotel in Bowie. On Jan. 5, he did not report for work at the hotel. Police were sent the next day to check on him at his two-bedroom apartment in the Wellfleet Mews community.

The first officer on the scene found the front door closed but unlocked. The home was neat, just as Luis Padilla kept it. As he shouted into the house to see if anyone was inside, the officer noticed that the door to the guest bedroom was closed.

Inside, the officer found the 51-year-old lying in bed, covered in blankets from the waist up. A silver handgun was in his right hand, and a note was taped to his chest.

"Do not save me," it read. "Luis."

Upon hearing the news, Margaret Padilla left her job and home in Orlando. She has since taken a new job here, working for a heart surgeon, and is in the process of selling the townhouse. But she does not plan to move back south.

Police say they sympathize with Padilla's grief. But they say all the evidence indicates a clear suicide and that they might never be able to answer her questions.

"We see her pain and her quest for answers, but in suicide cases we often can't give those answers," said Capt. David Waltemeyer, commander of the county police's criminal investigations division. "It's very common for [relatives] to have a difficult time accepting how their loved one died. All we can do is make sure we covered every base, and be as thorough as we can and try to provide the family with answers."

In her own meticulous accounting of the available evidence, Margaret Padilla sees several things that don't sit right. Certified handwriting expert Jane C. Elkin, of Annapolis, whom Padilla hired to compare writing samples, said the suicide note was not in his handwriting.

Margaret Padilla insists that crime scene photos show the guest room in disarray - if ever so slightly - though the rest of the house was immaculate. She says items such as her brother's briefcase, a digital camera and a priceless antique guitar are also missing, and a screen on his back window had been removed.

Luis Padilla never seemed down, according to close friend and co-worker Alicia Morris, of Waldorf.

"I talked to him the day after Christmas, and he was as happy as he'd ever been," Morris said. "He'd reached a point at work and in life where he didn't have anything to prove. He was content."

Perhaps more intriguing, Margaret Padilla also says that a month before her brother's death he had confided to her that he was scared for his life. He didn't elaborate, but police say that on Dec. 6 he purchased a .38-caliber revolver, which was picked up Dec. 29. She believes the gun was purchased for protection, and said he also kept a nightstick in the back seat of his car.

Waltemeyer, the county police captain, said police have reviewed the case multiple times at Margaret Padilla's request and have found that her claims cannot be substantiated.

Officers found no evidence that the gunshot wound was not self-inflicted, and determined that Luis Padilla was going through financial difficulties and had not been taking his medication for seasonal depression - both of which may have played a part in his decision to purchase the gun and take his own life. They did not agree that the home appeared suspicious, and say Margaret Padilla cannot account for items that may or may not have been in his home at the time of his death.

"She's produced multiple claims that we cannot document or substantiate, some of which, quite frankly, aren't even believable," Waltemeyer said. "You have to take a look at the overall facts and scenarios, and determine if any of those claims and allegations are accurate or even make sense and fit the crime scene. ... The only reasonable conclusion that you can come to is that this was a suicide."

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