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Questions persist as police investigate Laurel double homicides

By Luke Lavoie, llavoie@tribune.com

7:27 PM EDT, May 21, 2013

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Questions persist as police continue investigation of Laurel double homicides In the span of 11 days this month, four Laurel residents were found brutally killed inside their homes.

On May 2, Tina Towler, 45, and James Ferguson, 42, were discovered dead inside their South Laurel apartment by the nurse for Towler's 26-year-old daughter, Jasmine Gilbert, who was diagnosed at birth with cerebral palsy.

Less than two weeks later, on May 13, West Laurel resident Lisa Rainey, 50, and her daughter Ariale Chantre Shelton, 27, were found shot to death inside their home, in the 16100 block of Malcolm Drive in West Laurel after Ronald Lee Rainey, Lisa Rainey's husband, called 911 and surrendered to police.

The two double killings are unrelated.

Though charges have been filed in one of the cases — Rainey, 59, faces two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in the May 13 killing — many questions remain unanswered for friends and family members of the four victims.

"It's been a long couple weeks," said Dana Daniels, a close friend and co-worker of Towler.

One of the pressing questions on Daniels' mind, and surely on the minds of Prince George's County Police detectives, is what does Gilbert, who cannot speak, know?

"I really believe Jasmine knows what happened," Daniels said. "She is trapped in that body, and not being able to say what happened, but I do believe that she knows."

Daniels said Towler and her daughter had "a way of communicating" through facial expressions, and that if Gilbert was upset, she would cry.

Tina Towler's estranged husband, Jay Towler, 54, said Gilbert has trouble seeing, but that if something happened, she definitely heard it.

"She's a light sleeper," Towler said of Gilbert. "Maybe if she heard the person's voice, it's possible (she could identify a suspect). I don't know how something like that would hold up in court."

Towler, who said he stayed close with his wife following their separation in 2006, said he believes the killer knew the couple, because they always locked the door to their apartment, located in the 9600 block of Muirkirk Road.

Towler, a Laurel resident, said he was upset at the beginning of the investigation when police appeared to target him as a suspect.

"It bothers me people think I would do it. I had no bitterness to either one of them," Towler said. "I still love Tina, and I like James also."

Towler said police contacted him last week and told him he was no longer considered a suspect.

According to Towler, Gilbert is currently in the custody of the state and living in a group home. Although he is not her biological father, Towler said he is trying to get custody of Gilbert.

Police, meantime, remain tight-lipped about the investigation. Police spokesman Lt. William Alexander said detectives are not sharing information on past and current potential suspects.

Alexander said earlier this week that police "do not have anything new to share at this time on suspects and motive."

Alexander said there were no signs of forced entry to the home, and police have not been able to obtain information from Gilbert.

Daniels said she hoped Towler's funeral on May 18 would bring her closure, but that it still left her wanting.

"It didn't (bring closure) because there is still somebody out there that has not been arrested," Daniels said. "The longer time goes on and they don't have somebody, the more you feel like it's going to end up a cold case."

'Domestic-related' deaths

Alexander, the police spokesman, said the motive in the killing of Rainey and her daughter was "domestic-related."

According to charging documents, police were called to the home on Malcolm Drive by Ronald Rainey, stating he had shot his wife and daughter.

When police arrived, they found two women, identified as Rainey's wife, Lisa Rainey, and her daughter, Shelton, suffering from gunshot wounds to the face. Ronald Rainey was taken into custody after a brief standoff, while the two women were pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

According to the documents, Rainey waived his right to an attorney and provided a written and oral statement describing how he killed the women. Police said Rainey also admitted he committed the crimes to the 911 operator.

Two witnesses, Ronald Rainey's son and his friend, told police that Rainey pointed the gun at them, as well. His son said Rainey fired at him as he fled the residence. Rainey's son also said he witnessed his father kill the two women, police said.

Rainey is due to appear for a preliminary hearing in Prince George's County District Court on June 10.