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Norris urges seeking death penalty in officer killing

Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris said last night that prosecutors should seek the death penalty for three men charged in the execution-style killing of an off-duty detective who was ambushed early Saturday outside a city tavern.

The three - Jovan J. House, 21, Anthony A. Brown, 34, and Raymond Saunders, 23 - were denied bail yesterday during a brief hearing in District Court. All are charged with first-degree murder.

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The motive, prosecutors and police say, is clear: retaliation against Detective Thomas G. Newman for testifying against Saunders' half-brother, who was convicted of shooting the officer during a similar ambush in April last year.

"This is the most outrageous thing I have seen in my career," Norris said in an interview. "I can't even put it into words. I can't articulate how searing this pain is for the Police Department to have an officer killed like this."

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Norris said that he plans to meet with State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy and U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio to discuss whether federal authorities should take the case.

City prosecutors have said they need time to weigh evidence and evaluate other factors before deciding what punishment to seek.

Prosecutors said yesterday during the bail hearing that the men clearly intended to kill the veteran officer.

"They planned this shooting," prosecutor Barbara Richmond said. "They laid in wait, and they executed him."

Contrary to earlier reports that Saunders saw Newman in the tavern, police sources said yesterday that Brown first noticed the off-duty detective sitting in the bar. Brown entered Joe's to buy a 40-ounce beer, police sources said.

Detectives are investigating how Brown recognized the detective and are looking closely at whether he might have played a role in last year's shooting of Newman. Brown likely was friends with Saunders' half-brother, Andre A. Travers, 25, police sources said.

In that shooting, which occurred April 21 last year, Newman and several men got into an argument at a South Baltimore gas station. Worried the men might have weapons, Newman trailed their car and was shot during an ambush as he requested backup from 911 dispatchers over his cellular telephone.

In large part because of Newman's testimony, Travers and another man were convicted of attempted second-degree murder and sentenced in June to 30 years in prison.

After seeing Newman at the bar Friday night, Brown went to the O'Donnell Heights housing project where he ran into Saunders and House, police sources familiar with the investigation said.

A plan was hatched to "settle the score" with Newman for sending Travers to prison, said a police source close to the investigation. After waiting about two hours for Joe's to close, two men approached Newman as he left the tavern, police sources said.

The men opened fire without saying a word and continued to shoot after Newman fell to the ground, police said. The detective was hit by several bullets from two guns, police said.

Detectives strongly believe that House and Saunders were the gunmen and that Brown was the driver of the getaway car, according to police sources.

After shooting Newman, the two gunmen turned and began firing at a security guard who was standing in the bar parking lot, the sources said. The men then jumped into the waiting sedan and fled.

The security guard, whom detectives declined to identify, grabbed Newman's gun, jumped into a car with another witness and chased the sedan, police said. When the men bailed out near the O'Donnell Heights housing project, the security guard fired several rounds at them but missed, police said.

Authorities first arrested House, who implicated himself during an interrogation and told detectives about two other men he said participated in the attack, police said.

Police arrested Saunders and Brown soon afterward. Detectives recovered a 9 mm Glock handgun from House, and said firearms examiners linked it to ballistics evidence recovered from the crime scene. Examiners have not been able to link another handgun recovered in the investigation - a .32-caliber revolver - to the shooting.

An autopsy revealed that Newman was hit by .32-caliber and 9 mm bullets. Medical examiners also recovered the .38-caliber slugs that struck Newman during last year's shooting. Surgeons had not removed those for fear of further harming the officer.

It is unclear how long thoughts of revenge simmered, authorities said. The prosecutor who handled last year's shooting recalled some subtle words and possible threats lodged at Newman by relatives and friends of Travers.

But, the prosecutor said, Newman was not that concerned about them.

"I know he had some confrontations and problems," said Assistant State's Attorney Ahmet Hisim. "Tommy wasn't that worried about them."

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