BY KIRSTEN DIZE, firstname.lastname@example.org
2:38 PM EDT, July 26, 2011
It’s been nearly a year since a Street woman was stabbed to death in her home and three years since a young Edgewood man was shot and killed in a fire station in Joppa.
No one has been charged with either murder.
Deborah Burgess and Tariq Alston are among seven people murdered in Harford County in the past five years whose murders remain unsolved and cases remain open.
Randolph Goodson, Waverly Corey Lewis, David Byrd, Tyree Brown and Brandon Saunders have been murdered in Harford County since 2006; none of those cases have been solved either.
“I see it on the news every day, cases not being solved,” Daphne Alston, Tariq Alston’s mother, said just days before the third anniversary of her son’s murder.
Daphne Alston, like anyone who has lost a loved one at another person’s hand, wants her son’s killer brought to justice.
The Alston case has been reviewed by the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office, and while prosecutors believe there may be enough evidence for an arrest, there is likely not enough to get a criminal conviction.
“They’re saying they’ve done all they can do, unless they get a gun or someone to come forward,” Daphne Alston said.
Murder cases that fall into a middle ground of enough circumstantial evidence for an arrest, but not enough to make a solid case in court, are frustrating for people like Daphne Alston, who want nothing more than a killer brought to justice. Maj. Doug Verzi, commander of the investigative services bureau with the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, said loved ones of murder victims are not alone in that feeling.
“It’s equally frustrating for the detective,” Verzi said.
Witnesses and evidence
The challenges investigators face in the Alston murder case are ones that plague most cases, police say.
Finding people willing to talk to police and gathering sufficient evidence to ensure a conviction can be challenges in any investigation, not just a murder case, according to Verzi and Sgt. Daniel Staniewicz with the Harford County Sheriff’s Office.
“A lot of these cases are cases that we have an idea who the people are,” Verzi said of the open murder investigations.
Both Verzi and Staniewicz, who is assigned to the criminal investigation division, major case and homicide, say during the course of their careers, they have found people in the community are less and less willing to come forward and share what they know.
“The community involvement in any investigation has diminished,” Verzi said.
He said the unwillingness to come forward in murder cases can stem from any number of reasons. Fear of retaliation, protecting the culprit, not wanting to get involved or trying to handle the situation on their own are all common reasons people may not share what they know, Verzi said.
In almost every case that remains unsolved, Verzi and Staniewicz say community input could help build a solid case capable of convicting a murderer.
“It’s just that one tip that the investigators hadn’t heard yet,” Staniewicz said.
Investigators also don’t want to give families false hope.
“It really is our obligation to do the best for these investigations,” Verzi said.
The best, Verzi explained, is not just charging for the sake of clearing cases, but also having enough evidence to convict. He said anything less would be irresponsible.
“We’re not doing anyone any good if they walk out the door a free woman, like Casey Anthony,” Verzi said.
Imagining her son’s killer coming to trial and being found not guilty because of a lack of evidence is a distressing thought for Daphne Alston.
“I would feel terrible,” she said.
At the same time, she said she is frustrated by the situation and the amount of time that has passed without anyone being charged in her son’s killing.
“I just can’t understand why Tariq’s murder is not getting put away in court,” Alston said.
With the tools available, the number of people at the party and the amount of time since the crime, Alston feels her son’s murderer should be behind bars by now.
“There is never a closed, unsolved homicide,” Staniewicz said.
Only when all investigative leads dry up, leaving not even the slowest trickle of information, do cases shift to the “cold” category. All seven unsolved murders from the past five years are open, active investigations by the sheriff’s office. Investigators with the sheriff’s office also investigated 16 other murder cases within that same time period, all of which are closed.
Aberdeen police handled four murders within the past five years. Havre de Grace police handled two and Bel Air police handled two. In 2008, Maryland State Police investigated a fatal shooting on I-95 near Route 24.
Both Staniewicz and Verzi believe someone in the community could help bring the Alston case to a close and help the family find closure.
On July 13, 2008, Tariq Alston went to a private party at the Joppa-Magnolia Fire Hall. Around 11:45 p.m. that night, someone called 911 to report someone at the fire hall, in the 1400 block of Mountain Road, had been shot.
When police arrived, they found the 22-year-old Edgewood man suffering from at least one gunshot wound to his head. Mr. Alston was treated at the scene and taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where he died.
“There were well over 100 people at that firehouse and not one person has given us what we need,” Staniewicz said.
Detectives have a person of interest in the case and are confident that someone knows what happened that night.
“They’re pretty confident that persons within the community who are very close to the Alston family know who did this,” Verzi said.
At the time, police said there were reports that the shooting may have been retaliation for something that happened in Baltimore.
“I know my boys were not violent, I know they were not disrespectful,” Alston said. “Tariq had trespassing but, they were nonviolent [charges].”
Mr. Alston had several contacts with the criminal justice system in Harford County, including several convictions for trespassing and a conviction for possession of a drug other than marijuana.
Anyone with information about Mr. Alston’s murder is asked to contact Det. Paul Marziale at 410-836-5080.
It was a warm, summer evening in August with people outside enjoying the day, Staniewicz said of Aug. 6, 2010. Behind closed doors, however, Deborah Elaine Burgess, 52, was breathing her last.
As in the Alston case, police feel community involvement could help investigators find a killer.
Between 9 p.m. and 11 Aug. 6, 2010, someone stabbed and killed Ms. Burgess inside her home in the 1500 block of Clearview Drive in Street. Her death was reported the next day.
Detectives believe it’s possible that someone in the community heard or saw something, however innocuous, that could help in the investigation.
“We need the community to come forward on that,” Staniewicz said. “We feel very strongly someone saw or heard something at Ms. Burgess’s trailer.”
Staniewicz said even something that appears to have no meaning could help police.
“They know what’s normal in their neighborhood and what’s out of place,” Staniewicz said.
Verzi said sometimes information that is common knowledge to people in the community is something investigators may not know.
Staniewicz said there is no indication her death was related to illegal criminal activity.
“There’s a lot of theories and you have to work through that,” Staniewicz said.
Anyone with information about Ms. Burgess’ murder is asked to contact Det. Phil Golden at 410-836-5430
The day after Thanksgiving 2009, Brandon Jerome Saunders was found shot to death in a field in the 600 block of Yorkshire Drive in Edgewood, and police have a person of interest in his murder.
On the morning of Nov. 27, 2009, a man left his Edgewood home and discovered Mr. Saunders’ body lying in an open area nearby.
The 24-year-old had been shot in the torso and police do not believe his murder was random. Neighbors in the area reported hearing shots fired between 11 p.m. and midnight Thanksgiving night, but no one called 911 to report the shots.
Days later, Cladjour Winfred Way II, 23, was charged with armed carjacking and related charges stemming from an incident Nov. 25, 2009. At Way’s bail review hearing a prosecutor indicated Way was a suspect in Mr. Saunders’ murder.
The state ultimately dismissed the carjacking charges against Way, who was never charged in connection with the murder.
There is a person of interest in the case, Staniewicz confirmed last week.
Mr. Saunders did have contacts with the criminal justice system, including a 2004 armed robbery conviction inBaltimore County.
Anyone with information about Mr. Saunders’ murder is asked to contact Det. Marziale, 410-836-5080.
While an Abingdon man was accused of murdering Tyree Brown in 2007, the charges were later dropped. The case remains under investigation.
Not long after midnight on Dec. 31, 2007, Tyree Eugene Brown was found dead in the lower level of a home in the 1800 block of Grempler Way in Edgewood.
When deputies arrived, the homeowner told police someone armed with a gun was in her home. Police found Mr. Brown’s body in the house. He had been shot at least once in the upper body. Police believe the murderer drove the victim’s silver 2001 Buick from the scene. The car was found a few days later, on Jan. 2, 2008, near Hanson Road and Meadowood Drive in Edgewood.
Mr. Brown, 22, lived in Edgewood, but was not a resident of the home where he died.
An hour after Mr. Brown’s body was found, Lewis Lee Cochran, then 22, of Abingdon, was arrested and charged with first-degree assault and first-degree murder. Police believed Cochran and Mr. Brown knew each other.
Five days before his trial, however, all charges against Cochran were dropped and he was released from custody. Police said he had been ruled out as a suspect.
Mr. Brown was believed to be a member of the Bloods gang, but it was unclear at the time whether his death was related to gang or drug activity.
“That’s another one that we could have really used the community’s help on,” Staniewicz said. “People know who did that.”
He said there may be an element of fear that prevented members of the community from speaking up.
“Those folks have to live there,” Staniewicz said.
No one else has been charged with Mr. Brown’s murder and the case remains open.
Anyone with information about Mr. Brown’s murder is asked to contact Det. Golden, 410-836-5430.
While no one has been charged in the death of David Byrd, police have a person of interest who is already in jail on separate charges.
The 30-year-old Joppa resident was found suffering from a stab wound in a parking lot in the 1900 block of Edgewater Drive around 2 a.m. on Aug. 26, 2007.
Mr. Byrd had been stabbed in the mid-torso and was taken by ambulance to a Baltimore hospital, where he died.
There was no indication at the time that the stabbing was gang or drug-related.
Police said in January 2008 that the man suspected of stabbing Mr. Byrd to death was incarcerated on unrelated charges and expected to be charged in connection with Mr. Byrd’s death.
Staniewicz confirmed last week there is a person of interest in the case who remains incarcerated. No one has been charged in connection with stabbing Mr. Byrd.
Mr. Byrd also had contacts with the criminal justice system, including several drug-related charges.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Det. Tom Walsh at 410-836-5408.
Lewis and Goodson
Two brothers were shot and killed in an Edgewood condo in 2006 and their killer or killers remain at large.
Randolph Mendon Goodson, who was 30 according to police and 28 according to his obituary, and his brother, Waverly Corey Lewis, 19, were found dead in a condo in the 1300 block of Goldmeadow Way Sept. 14, 2006 by a relative who stopped by to visit them.
Both men were born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and while a police press release said both had been living in Edgewood for more than a year, the obituaries for the two men said Mr. Lewis was from Edgewood and Mr. Goodson was still a resident of Brooklyn.
Police said the two men had been targeted.
In 2003, when he was 16, Mr. Lewis was allegedly involved in a drive-by shooting in Havre de Grace that wounded two teenagers. The shooting took place at the intersection of Girard and Stokes streets, which at the time was a notorious drug corners.
Mr. Lewis was charged as an adult with two counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault, use of a handgun in commission of a violent crime and reckless endangerment in a car. Mr. Lewis was indicted on the charges, but the case was ultimately dropped.
He has also faced disorderly conduct and drug possession charges in other cases.
Anyone with information about the murders of Mr. Lewis and Mr. Goodson are asked to contact Det. Walsh at 410-836-5408.