Columbia mall holdup might be linked to city killing

As police investigate ties to other robberies, owner of getaway car is shot

April 05, 2011|By Justin Fenton and Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

A jewelry store robbery at The Mall in Columbia might be linked to others in Baltimore and Annapolis, as well as to the fatal shooting of a man killed a day after his car was identified as the getaway vehicle in the Howard County holdup.

Howard detectives arrested three Baltimore men Monday and charged them in an armed robbery last week that netted more than $300,000 in high-end watches. Mall security officers saw the license plate of the getaway car, a Mitsubishi Diamante traced to Derek Jones, an aspiring rapper.

Jones, 25, was shot in the head the day after the robbery as he left a barber shop in the 1200 block of Winchester St. in West Baltimore. The shooting occurred hours after he was questioned by detectives, officials confirmed.

Howard County police announced the robbery arrests Tuesday, but there was no mention in charging documents of Jones beyond describing his vehicle. Spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said Howard detectives had been investigating Jones' possible involvement in the robbery but were not prepared to charge him at the time of his death.

Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said city homicide detectives were "not prepared to comment" on how the robbery might play into the murder investigation.

Jones, a rapper who went by the names "Nu-Boy" and "D. Jones," produced an album in late 2008 that was sold at local Best Buy stores. His website bio says that Jones' "dreams [were] nearly overshadowed by serving a full-life sentence to 'the ghetto' and its … gang violence, street hustling and penalties of law enforcement."

Street life was prominent in his music — album covers are splashed with images of guns and bullets. A song released last fall featured the chorus, "Air 'em out," with the sounds of guns firing and the clink of bullet casings hitting the ground.

But a follow-up album, his site promised, was to be called "American Dream," and discussed "his emergence from the bitter realities" of life in Baltimore that filled his first album. "It was his wish to give the world more of himself as a person and less of the tragic images he experienced day to day living in Baltimore," it reads.

Jones had a newborn son, and his label has set up a donation fund for the family on the website. A close friend declined to comment, saying that friends and family feared for their safety, given the questions surrounding his death.

Charged in the mall robbery were Deontaye Derrick Harvey, 20, of the 1100 block of N. Parrish St.; Gary Donnell Braxton Jr., 25, of the 700 block of Lexington St.; and Aaron Pratt, 19, of the 2000 block of Wylie Ave., all of Baltimore.

Howard police said they are working with other departments to determine whether the suspects might have been involved in other cases. There have been at least two other armed robberies of jewelry stores at malls in Baltimore and Annapolis in which more than $100,000 in merchandise was taken. Each occurred in mid- to late afternoon, and the robbers were described as being in their early to mid-20s and wearing baseball caps.

In September, at least one man walked into Elite Gold & Diamond at Mondawmin Mall and asked to see Rolex watches, city police said. He threatened an employee with a gun and escaped with 42 gold and diamond-encrusted Rolex and Gucci watches worth more than $100,000.

On March 7, two men robbed a clerk at Liljenquist & Beckstead Jewelers in the Westfield Annapolis Mall. Police said the men inquired about watches in a display case, then drew guns and announced a robbery.

One of the Columbia suspects appears to have been charged in the Annapolis robbery. Court records show that Braxton was charged in a March 7 armed robbery in Anne Arundel County and also faces handgun charges. He was released on $250,000 bond in the case.

The most recent hold-up occurred March 30 at Edward Arthur Jewelers at The Mall in Columbia, where three men, one with a black semiautomatic pistol, ordered a sales clerk to open a display case and help fill a bag with Rolex watches, police said.

In the Annapolis robbery, the suspects wore New York Yankees caps. In the Columbia holdup, the three wore caps of the Vancouver Grizzlies, Chicago Bulls and Cincinnati Reds. In the Baltimore robbery, police said, the robber wore a dark green hat.

Authorities distributed surveillance photos to the news media, and two people contacted detectives two days after the Columbia robbery and provided them with the name of one of the suspects. A Howard County police spokeswoman said the stolen jewelry has not been recovered.

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