By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun
8:16 PM EST, December 29, 2011
Baltimore police have made an arrest in the killing of a 50-year-old man whose body was set on fire in April, and court documents appear to indicate an effort by the Police Department to be more deliberate in building cases.
Eugene Emmett Bates, 36, was indicted last week and charged in the death of Elmore Rembert, who police say was killed during an argument as the pair used drugs in a vacant home in the Booth-Boyd neighborhood of Southwest Baltimore. Bates is accused of setting the house on fire and stealing Rembert's truck.
Police appear to have been led to Bates as a suspect in May, obtained his DNA in June and determined they could link him to evidence at the crime scene. But they continued to interview witnesses and gather statements before seeking a warrant for Bates' arrest six months later, on Dec. 9, records show.
Earlier this year, the interim commander of the homicide unit compiled a memo outlining cases where detectives believed they had enough evidence to charge suspects but were being "stalled and hindered" by city prosecutors. As of last week, the clearance rate was 47 percent, on track to be one of the lowest on record despite a 30-year low in overall killings.
In a wide-ranging interview last week that did not touch on the Bates case specifically, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said his detectives need to bring better investigations.
"We've been internally captivated around this notion of closing cases, but that's not going to be enough," Bealefeld said. "That's not what the mayor wants. The mayor wants to make sure we're holding violent offenders accountable, [not] just throwing them through a revolving door and they come back out on weak charges."
Said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake: "We certainly need to improve our clearance rate, but it's also about training." It's not enough "to check it off and say it's cleared, but not have a solid case for the state's attorney to prosecute. We need to focus on our clearance rate but do it in a way that continues to promote safety, and not just safety, but the perception of safety — that there's a criminal justice system that works."
Rembert had last been seen by his wife at about 7 p.m. April 23, according to charging documents. A broadcast was put out to officers for Rembert's 2007 Ford F-150 pickup truck, which Officer John Sellers spotted May 11 in the 1100 block of Edmondson Ave. Sellers pulled the vehicle over and asked the driver for identification. He said his name was "Emmett," but after Sellers requested backup, he fled and was able to elude officers.
As he was fleeing, a baseball cap fell off his head, which police collected as evidence. Detectives later developed Bates as a suspect and were told that Rembert and Bates had gone to 10 S. Monroe St., a vacant house, to use drugs, according to charging documents.
On May 25, detectives showed Sellers a photo lineup, and he identified Bates as the man he had pulled over, records show. That day, homicide detective Juan Diaz charged Bates with car theft and he was ordered held without bond as the investigation continued.
Then in June, Bates' DNA was collected and submitted for examination, records show. In August, prosecutors placed the car theft charges on the "inactive" docket. "In furtherance" of the murder investigation, detectives wrote in court papers, they interviewed several witnesses who identified Bates as the person responsible for the killing and the person they saw driving the victim's stolen truck immediately after he was killed.
Despite the apparent delay, Bates' prior record underscores Bealefeld's comments about getting a case right: In 2003, he was charged with fatally shooting a man in the head in 1992. Records show all the charges were dropped by prosecutors 10 months later.
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