First of three rape and murder trials begins for Gwynn Oak man

Prosecutors and police say DNA evidence reveals William Vincent Brown to be a repeat rapist and murderer, who sexually assaulted two prostitutes and a 15-year-old girl in separate incidents over an 11-month period beginning in 2003.

The 44-year-old Gwynn Oak man is charged with killing two of the victims and attempting to kill a third, dumping her battered, comatose body in Leakin Park. He's scheduled for three trials on the charges this year, the first of which — involving the lone survivor — began late Wednesday.

The case is expected to last through the end of the month and could shed light on a series of killings and assaults — many against sex workers — that took place a half-dozen years ago, raising questions of whether a serial attacker was on the loose.

Brown's attorneys say police and prosecutors pegged the wrong man. Two other men had already been charged and acquitted in the teen's death, for which Brown is scheduled to stand trial in April, and the surviving victim previously identified someone else as her attacker.

Brown's criminal history shows him to be a run-of-the-mill drug dealer given repeated chances to turn his life around by a Howard County Circuit Court judge, who punished Brown's drug charges with suspended prison sentences and probation. Court records show Brown followed most of the rules he was given, held down a full-time job, paid his fines, and passed drug and alcohol screenings.

"Mr. Brown is innocent" of the assault and attempted-murder charges in Wednesday's case, Assistant Public Defender Filia Morgan-Xavier told the jury Wednesday. However, prosecutor Diana Smith identified him as the "person who brutally beat, strangled and [sexually] assaulted" the surviving victim on April 13, 2003.

The Baltimore Sun is not identifying the woman, a former prostitute and drug user, because of the sexual nature of the crimes against her.

During a preliminary hearing in the case, held more than a year ago, the woman, now 38, tearfully took the witness stand and identified Brown as the "hack" cabdriver who picked her up in his burgundy Nissan 300ZX along Edmondson Avenue that spring evening in 2003. He drove her to Leakin Park, she said, choked her, raped her and nearly severed her ears from her head.

"He raped me, cut me and left me for dead in the park," she said.

She had earlier identified another man as the assailant, but a 2008 DNA report allegedly linked Brown to the crime and two others that followed shortly thereafter. In June 2003, a 25-year-old homeless woman named Emma O'Hearn was found comatose outside Calverton Middle School; she died six months later. And in March 2004, the strangled body of 15-year-old Antania Mills was found wrapped in bed linens along the 2500 block of Talbot Road.

Police have said that DNA collected from the victims were matched to Brown in 2008. And on Wednesday, Smith, the assistant state's attorney, promised to present similar evidence to the jury in the present case.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy Doory said the trial would be lengthy, though he told jurors it would conclude by Jan. 31.

Brown's next trial date, in the O'Hearn attack and killing, is set for March 14.

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