Crime Scenes: Parents of dead teen press for answers

Threaten to sue city, police over investigation

September 30, 2010|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

The white Volvo sedan that Annie McCann drove to flee her Virginia home and run away to Baltimore still sits in her parents' garage in Alexandria.

Dan and Mary Jane McCann continue to make the $525 monthly payments, hoping that one day a police officer will once more comb through the vehicle and find clues to their daughter's sudden disappearance and death in Baltimore.

The McCanns are convinced the police missed something in the investigation of their daughter's death and prematurely concluded that she took her own life by drinking Bactine, dying of an overdose from one of its strongest ingredients, lidocaine. If only, they say, detectives would reopen the case, they might find the predator the distraught couple thinks laced an alcoholic drink with poison, forced or persuaded Annie to drink it, and abandoned her body in a public housing complex.

That the 16-year-old appeared to be contemplating suicide, in at least one of the notes she left behind, doesn't mean she followed through. And it does not, the family said at a news conference Thursday, "justify a lazy police investigation, willfully ignorant of objective facts that contradict tidy theories."

Nearly two years after Annie's body was found behind a trash bin on Spring Court at the Perkins Homes housing complex in Southeast Baltimore, the McCanns summoned reporters and announced that they plan to file a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the city of Baltimore alleging police incompetence.

They're going to seek between $8 million and $10 million in punitive damages, "arising from the city's cruel failure to investigate Annie's death," and an additional $3,720 for damage they said was done to the white Volvo as it sat gathering dust in a city police impound lot.

"It is not the parents but the police who are in denial," Dan McCann told reporters,

City officials do not comment on pending or threatened lawsuits. But police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi, reiterating what he has told reporters in the past, said the department "stands by its homicide investigators."

The spokesman added that the Nov. 2, 2008, death of Annie McCann "is an extremely horrific and tragic situation. We can never imagine the amount of grief that this family is going through, but the evidence is pretty overwhelming that this is not a homicide."

Privately, police are frustrated with the family, saying the department pumped more than 1,200 hours into investigating Annie's death and that, at one time, as many as 44 detectives and other personnel had their hands in the case, sometimes at the expense of investigating other homicide cases.

In March 2009, police indefinitely suspended the investigation, saying they were convinced Annie had committed suicide and that it was time to move on to other work. The medical examiner ruled Annie's death "undetermined" — neither homicide nor suicide — and said she overdosed on lidocaine.

The McCanns have relentlessly pursued the issue ever since, draining their life savings and pouring money into billboards, hiring private investigators and forensic experts, and seeking help from the FBI. There are enough unanswered questions, the family contends, to warrant reopening the case.

A frustrated Dan McCann brought up past police problems — an officer who failed to report the mugging of a nanny in Bolton Hill and rapes that were written up as lesser crimes — to allege that detectives are following a pattern in Annie's case of "keeping crime off the books."

"A mugging. A rape. The murder of a 16-year-old girl," he told reporters in a hotel conference room. In the background, he had placed easels with placards outlining what the family says are flaws and inconsistencies in the case.

One poster had a picture of Annie and of Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, with the caption, "Please, Commissioner Bealefeld, find my killer."

The McCanns' unanswered questions include whether the note Annie left behind on her bed really foretold her suicide or simply reflected her depression. There's a drug dealer who texted Annie days before she disappeared, and a mysterious woman a waitress at a Little Italy pastry shop said she saw with Annie the day before her body was found.

Two teens have been found responsible in juvenile court for taking Annie's body out of her car, leaving it near the trash bin and taking the Volvo for a five-block ride. And the McCanns question whether Annie could have died from ingesting the amount of lidocaine in a 5-ounce bottle of Bactine. Police say the small bottle contained more than a lethal dose.

Privately, authorities sympathize with the McCanns but say the family has allowed outside experts to take advantage of their overwhelming grief and inability to accept how their daughter died. The McCanns say it's the police who gave up.

"We will never stop looking for the killer of our daughter," Dan McCann said. "When will the city of Baltimore start?"

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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