Recently unsealed court documents show that authorities believe a series of jewelry store holdups in suburban and city malls are connected to the fatal shooting of a man in West Baltimore.
The Baltimore Sun reported in April that Derek Jones, 25, had been shot in the head hours after being interviewed by police in connection to a robbery at The Mall in Columbia in which security cameras showed his vehicle had been used as a getaway car. At the time, that robbery was believed to possibly be linked to jewelry store robberies at the Westfield Annapolis Mall and Mondawmin Mall.
In a search warrant affidavit filed in March by an FBI agent and unsealed July 27, authorities say Jones had been interviewed by Howard County police and told them he lent his vehicle to a woman. He denied involvement in the robbery, which police now say matches the evidence.
But shortly after that meeting, and within hours of Howard County police's releasing suspect photos to the public, Jones was killed in the 1200 block of Winchester St. by three bullets fired at close range, an FBI agent wrote in court papers. Witnesses say they saw Jones talking to Deontaye Harvey, who has been charged in the jewelry store robberies, moments before the killing.
Harvey, 20, and a co-defendant, 19-year-old Aaron Pratt, have been indicted on federal robbery charges in connection with the mall robbery. Police say they both confessed to stealing 34 Rolex watches worth $300,000 from Edward Arthur Jewelers on March 30, 2011.
Records show two firearms were recovered from the residence of a third suspect in the robberies, Gary Braxton, who has not been indicted. One of the weapons contained a "reddish residue inside the barrel of the gun — suspected blood which is consistent with the blowback from a close-range shot, such as those that killed Derek Jones."
At the time the affidavit was prepared, the gun was being tested for a DNA match. Police this week could not say whether those lab results had come back.
No one has been charged in the killing of Jones, an aspiring rapper who had released a CD sold at local Best Buy stores. His next album was to have been called "American Dream," and discussed "his emergence from the bitter realities" of life in Baltimore, his website said. "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.
In court papers, authorities laid out evidence showing connections between the Columbia robbery and a series of robberies at the Mondawmin Mall that occurred between August and September 2010. Records show Harvey's fingerprints were recovered from the scene of one of those robberies, and one of the handguns recovered in the raid bears a "unique logo" on its handle that matches a description of the guns used.
Other robberies of expensive watches took place in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. In the Anne Arundel robbery, a "distinctive green backpack" was worn by one of the perpetrators and a similar-looking backpack was also found during the raid that turned up the handguns, records show.
Investigators learned through an examination of Jones' phone that it had been used to access the Internet to research the products they intended to steal, as well as escape routes from the Columbia Mall. They say there is "no evidence that Mr. Jones was in fact present in the vehicle at the time of the robbery."
"Investigators believe that either Mr. Jones was a co-conspirator and conducted Internet research to assist Pratt, Harvey and Braxton or that one of the suspects used Mr. Jones' phone, which may have been left in the car, to research escape routes and the targeted products," the records say.
A fourth suspect, 19-year-old Reginald Dargan, faces armed robbery charges in Howard County Circuit Court.