With prodding, detectives subdue a witness and make their arrest

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WARNING NOTICE: THIS 3-PART SERIES IS FOR IN-HOUSE USE ONLY DUE TO COPYRIGHT

In an excerpt from the book "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets," published in yesterday's Sun, Baltimore homicide detectives Rich Garvey and Donald Kincaid were investigating the murder of Lena Lucas, a 40-year-old woman found shot and stabbed in her westside row house.

Ballistics matched the crime to the similar slaying of Purnell Booker, an older man found dead the same evening in his home blocks away.

Two suspects have emerged: Robert Frazier, the victim's cocaine-dealing boyfriend, and Vincent Booker, who has been sellingdrugs for Frazier and is Purnell Booker's son. In an interview with detectives, Frazier offered an alibi for the murder and suggested that Vincent Booker probably was the killer.

But the alibi hasn't held up, and an eyewitness has come forward to say she saw Frazier with Lena Lucas on the night of the murder.

Garvey and Kincaid respond by picking up Vincent Booker, searching his room and hauling him downtown.

Their interrogation continues:

... Vincent Booker waits for the second round with his back against the near wall, his hands cupped in thefolds of his sweat shirt. Kincaid takes the far seat, facing the kid. Garvey sits between the two, closer to Vincent's end of the table.

"Son, lemme tell you something," says Garvey, in a tone that suggests the interrogation is already over. "You have one shot here. You can tell us what you know about these murders and we'll see what we can do. I know you're involved in some way, but I don't know how much and the thing for you to think about is whether you want to become a witness or a defendant."

Vincent says nothing.

"Are you listening to me, Vincent? You better start thinking about every f - - - - - - thing I'm saying here because a lot of shit is going to be coming down."

Silence.

"Are you worried about Frazier? Listen to me, son, you better start worrying about yourself. Frazier's been in here already. He's trying to f - - - you. He's telling us about you."

That gets it. Vincent looks up. "What's Frazier sayin'?" he asks.

"What did you think?" says Kincaid. "He's trying to put you in for these murders."

"I didn't . . . "

"Vincent, I don't believe this m - - - - - - - - - - - Frazier," says Garvey. "Even if you're involved in one or the other, I don't believe you killed your father."

Garvey pushes his chair closer to Vincent's corner of the room anddrops his voice to little more than a whisper. "Look, son, I'm just trying to give you a chance on this. But you've got to tell us the truth now and we'll see what we can do with that. You can be at the defense table, or you can be on the prosecution side. That's what we can do. . . . We do a few favors now and then and we're doing you one right now. Are you smart enough to see that?"

Probably not, thinks Garvey. And so the two detectives begin to lay it out to young Vincent Booker. They remind him that his father and Lena were both shot with the same kind of ammunition, that both murder scenes are identical. They explain that right now, he's the only suspect who was known to both victims. After all, they ask him, what was your father to Robert Frazier?

At this, the boy looks up, puzzled, and Garvey stops talking long enough to reduce this abstraction to paper. On the back of a lined statement sheet, the detective draws one circle on the left hand side of the page, then writes the name "Lena" inside the circle. On the right-hand side of the page, Garvey draws a second circle with the name "Purnell Booker" written inside. Then, Garvey draws a third circle in between the two, with its arc intersecting the circles of the two victims. Inside that third circle, he writes, "Vincent."

It's a crude little creation, something any algebra teacher would know as a Venn Diagram, but it gets Garvey's point across.

"This is our case. Look at it," he says, pushing the sheet in front of the boy. "Lena and your father are killed by the same gun and right now the only person who has any connection to both of the victims is Vincent Booker. You're right in the f - - - - - - middle of this thing. You think about that."

Vincent says nothing and the two detectives leave the room long enough to allow the geometry to sink in. Garvey lights a cigarette and watches through the one-way window in the interrogation room door as Vincent holds the crudely drawn diagram to his face and traces the three circles with his finger. Garvey shakes his head, watching Vincent turn the sheet with the diagram upside down, then right side up, then upside down again.

"Lookit this f - - - - - - Einstein in here, will you?" he says to Kincaid. "He's about the dumbest m - - - - - - - - - - - I ever seen."

"You ready?" says Kincaid.

"Yeah. Let's do it."

Vincent doesn't look up from the diagram when the door opens, but his body gives an involuntary shake when Garvey walks through the portal and immediately begins another rant, his voice louder this time. Vincent can no longer manage eye contact; he grows smaller, more vulnerable with each accusation, a bleeder in the corner of the shark tank. Garvey sees his opening.

"You've got a knot in your f - - - - - - stomach, don't you?" Garvey asks abruptly. "You're feeling like you're going to be sick. I've seen a hundred or so just like that in here."

"I seen 'em throw up," says Kincaid. "You ain't gonna throw up in here, are you?"

No, says Vincent, shaking his head. He is sweating now, one hand clutching the end of the table, the other wrapped tight in the hem of his sweat shirt. Part of the sickness is the fear of being pegged for two murders, part is the fear of Robert Frazier. But the greater share of what's holding Vincent Booker on the precipice is a fear of his own family. Right here and now, Garvey can look at Vincent Booker and know, with even greater certainty than before, that there is no way this boy killed his father. Vincent Booker doesn't have that in him. Yet the bullets found in his bedroom connect him to the crime, and his rapid reduction to a speechless wreck in less than an hour of interrogation testifies to guilty knowledge. He is no killer, but Vincent Booker played a role in his father's death, or at the very least, he knew the murderer and said nothing. Either way, there is something that cannot be faced.

Sensing that the boy needs one more good shove, Garvey walks out of the interrogation and grabs the plastic soap dish taken from Vincent's bedroom.

"Gimme one of these," he says, taking a .38 cartridge from the dish. "This m - - - - - - - - - - - needs some show-and-tell."

Garvey walks back into the cubicle and deposits the .38 round in Kincaid's left hand. The older detective needs no other prompting; he stands the round on its end in the center of the table.

"See this here bullet?" Kincaid asks.

Vincent looks at the cartridge.

"This isn't your ordinary .38 ammunition, is it? Now we can get them to type this for us at the FBI lab and it usually takes 'em two or three months, but on a rush job, they can have it back in two days. And they're gonna be able to tell us which box of 50 this bullet came from," says Kincaid, pushing the round slowly across the table top toward the boy. "So, you tell me, is it going to be just coincidence if the FBI says this bullet comes from the same box as the one that killed your daddy and Lena both? You tell me."

Vincent looks away, his hands clasped tight together in his lap. A perfect deceit: even if the FBI could narrow the .38 ammunition to the same manufacturer's lot number of a couple of 100,000 boxes or more, the process would probably take half a year.

"We're just trying to lay it out for you, son," says Garvey. "What do you think a judge is going to do with evidence like that?"

The boy is silent.

"Death penalty case, Vincent."

"And I'm gonna be the one to testify," adds Kincaid in his Kentucky drawl, "cause that's my thing."

"Death penalty?" asks Vincent,startled.

"No contest," says Kincaid.

"Honest, son, if you're lying to us . . . "

"Even if we let you leave here today," says Kincaid, "you'll never know the next time there's a knock on your door whether it's us coming back to lock you up."

"And we will come back," says Garvey, pulling his chair closer to Vincent. Wordlessly, he brings himself face-to-face with the boy, leaning forward until their eyes are less than a foot apart. Then, softly, the detective begins describing the murder of Purnell Booker. An argument, a brief struggle, perhaps, then the wounds. Garvey moves closer still to Vincent Booker and tells of the 20 or so blade wounds to the face; as he does so, he taps the boy's cheek lightly with his finger.

Vincent Booker sickens visibly.

"Get this off your chest, son," says Garvey. "What do you know about these murders?"

"I gave the bullets to Frazier."

"You gave him bullets?"

"He asked me for bullets . . . I gave him six."

Vincent Booker comes close to crying, but quickly steadies himself, resting both elbows on the table and hiding his face behind his hands.

"Why did Frazier ask for bullets?"

Vincent shrugs.

"Dammit, Vincent."

"I didn't . . . "

"You're holdin' back."

"I . . . "

"Get it off your chest, son. We're trying to help you to start over here . . . . This'll be the only chance you're going to have to start over."

Vincent Booker breaks.

"My daddy . . . " he says, then stops.

"Why would Frazier kill your father?"

First he tells them about the drugs, the packaged cocaine that was in his room at his mother's house, ready for street sale. Then he tells about his father finding the dope and taking it away. He tells them about the argument, about how his father wouldn't listen and drove away to his apartment on Lafayette Avenue with the cocaine in the car. Vincent's cocaine. Frazier's cocaine.

He tells them about how he went to Amity Street where Frazier's othergirlfriend lived to tell Frazier, to admit that he'd messed up, to reveal that his father had stolen their dope. Frazier listened angrily, then asked for bullets, and Vincent, afraid to refuse, gave him six wadcutters that he had taken from the tobacco can on top of the bureau in his father's apartment. Frazier went alone to Lafayette Avenue, Vincent tells them.

He expected his father would be threatened, he tells them, just as he expected that Frazier would get back the drugs. He did not expect a murder, he tells the detectives, and he does not know what happened at his father's apartment.

S - - - on that, Garvey thinks as he listens to the story. We know damned well what happened. I know it, you know it, Kincaid here knows it. Robert Frazier showed up at your daddy's house wired tight on cocaine from Denise's party, armed with a loaded .38 and a short blade and desirous of some missing drugs. Your daddy must have told Frazier to go to hell.

That scenario explained the ransacking in Purnell Booker's apartment, as well as the repeated superficial stab wounds to the old man's face. The torture was inflicted to make Purnell Booker talk; the ransacking suggested he didn't.

But why kill Lena that same night? And in the same way? Vincent claims no knowledge of that murder, and from everything he's learned, Garvey has no idea either. Maybe Frazier was led to believe that Lena was somehow involved in the missing drugs. Maybe she was dipping into some of the dope Frazier kept on Gilmor Street. Maybe she answered the door saying something Frazier didn't particularly like. Maybe the cocaine rush got good to Frazier and he just kept on killing. Maybe A and B, or B and C, or all of the above. Does it matter? Not to me, thinks Garvey. Not anymore.

"You were there, weren't you, Vincent? You went with Frazier to your father's."

Vincent shakes his head and looks away.

"I'm not saying you were involved in the murder, but you went there, didn't you?"

"No," the boy says, "I just gave him those bullets."

Oh yeah, thinks Garvey. You were there when Robert Frazier killed your father. Why else would this be so hard? It's one thing to live in fear of a man like Frazier, another to be afraid of telling the truth to your own family. Garvey pushes the boy for a half hour more, but it's no use; Vincent Booker has come as close to the cliff as he dares. It is, Garvey reasons, close enough.

"If you're holding out on us, Vincent . . . "

"No, I ain't."

" . . . cause you will go before a grand jury and if you lie to them, it'll be the worst mistake you ever make."

"No, sir."

"All right. Now I'm gonna write this up and have you sign it as a statement," says Garvey. "We're gonna start at the beginning and go slow so I can write this down."

"Yessir."

"What is your name?"

"Vincent Booker."

"Your date of birth . . . "

The official version, short and sweet. Garvey exhales softly and puts pen to paper.

FRIDAY, MARCH 11

With his right hand, Garvey pulls the .38 from his waist holster and drops the weapon down against the his trouser leg, shielding it from view.

"Frazier, open up."

The uniform closest to the detective motions toward the front door of the Amity Street row house.

"Kick it?" he asks.

Garvey shakes his head. No need.

"Frazier, open the door."

"Who is it?"

"Detective Garvey. I got to ask you a couple questions."

"Now?" says a voice behind the door. "I got to . . . "

"Yeah, now. Open the damn door."

The door comes halfway open and Garvey slips through, the gun still tight against his thigh.

"What's up," says Frazier, stepping back.

Suddenly, Garvey brings the snub-nose up to the left side of Robert Frazier's face. Frazier looks at the black hole of the barrel, then back at Garvey strangely, squinting through a cocaine haze.

"Get the f - - - up against that wall."

"Wha . . . "

"MOVE, M - - - - - - - - - - -. AGAINST THAT F - - - - - - WALL BEFORE I BLOW YOUR F - - - - - - HEAD OFF."

Kincaid and two uniforms follow Garvey through the opening as Frazier is shoved roughly against a living-room wall. Kincaid and the younger uniform check the back rooms as the older patrolman, a veteran of the Western, cocks his own weapon against Frazier's right ear.

"Move," says the uniform, "and your brains are on the floor."

Christ, thinks Garvey, staring at the cocked weapon, if that bad boy goes off we'll all be writing reports for the rest of our careers. But the threat works: Frazier stops bucking and leans into the plasterboard. The uniform uncocks and reholsters his .38 and Garvey once again begins to breathe air.

"What's this about?" says Frazier, working hard to approximate a picture of innocent confusion.

"What do you think it's about?"

Frazier says nothing.

"What do you think, Frazier?"

"I don't know."

"Murder. You're charged with murder."

"Who'd I murder?"

Garvey smiles. "You killed Lena. And the old man, Booker."

Frazier shakes his head violently as the older cop opens one ring of his handcuffs and pulls Frazier's right arm off the wall. Suddenly, at the first feel of the metal bracelet, Frazier begins to buck again, pushing away from the wall and pulling his arm away from the uniform. With surprising speed, Garvey moves a step and a half across the living room and lands a punch hard against Frazier's face.

The suspect looks up, stunned.

"What was that for?" he asks Garvey.

For a second or two, Rich Garvey lets himself think about the question. The official answer, the one required for the reports, is that this officer was required to subdue a homicide suspect who attempted to resist arrest. The righteous answer, the one that is soon lost to any detective with time on the street, is that the suspect was struck because he is a cold-blooded piece of s - - -, a murderous bastard who in a single evening took the lives of an old man and a mother of two. But Garvey's ownanswer falls somewhere in between.

"That," he tells Frazier, "is for lying to me, m - - - - - - - - - - -."

Lying. To a detective. In the first degree.

Frazier says nothing more, offering no resistance as the uniform and Kincaid guide him to the sofa, where he sits with hands cuffed behind him.

On the off-chance that Frazier's .38 might be lying around, the detectives do a quick, plain-view search of the apartment. The murder weapon remains unaccounted for, but on the kitchen table is a night's work for Robert Frazier: a small amount of rock cocaine, quinine dilutant, a couple dozen glassine bags, three syringes.

The detectives look at the uniforms and the uniforms look at each other.

"You guys want to take it?"

"Nah," says Garvey. "We're charging him with two murders. Besides, we don't have a warrant for this place."

"Hey," says the younger uniform, "fine by me."

They leave it on the kitchen table, a West Baltimore still life waiting for the successor to Robert Frazier's squalid, street-corner business.

Garvey walks back into the living room and asks the younger uniform to radio for a wagon. Frazier finds his voice again.

"Officer Garvey, I didn't lie to you."

Garvey smiles.

"You ain't never told the truth," says Kincaid in his hillbilly drawl. "You ain't got the truth in you."

"I ain't lyin'."

"S - - -," says Kincaid, pushing the word to 2 1/2 syllables. "You ain't got the truth in you, son."

"Hey, Frazier," says Garvey, smiling, "remember how you promised to bring me that .38? What ever happened to that gun anyway?"

"That's right," says Kincaid, picking up on it. "If you're so f - - - - - - honest how come you never brought that gun in for us?"

Frazier says nothing.

"You ain't got the truth in you, son." says Kincaid again. "No sir. It ain't in you."

Frazier simply shakes his head, seeming to gather his thoughts for a moment or two. Then he looks up at Garvey, genuinely curious. "Officer Garvey," he asks. "Am I the only one charged?"

The only one. If ever Garvey wondered whether Vincent Booker had anything to do with these murders, that utterance alone was enough to answer the question.

"Yeah, Frazier. You're it."

Vincent was involved, no doubt about it. But Vincent wasn't the trigger man -- not for Lena, not for his father. And in the end, it was a hell of a lot better to keep Vincent Booker as a witness than give him a charge and let Frazier use him in front of a jury. Garvey saw no point in providing Frazier's attorney with an alternative suspect, a living, breathing piece of reasonable doubt. No, thought Garvey, for once they had told the truth in the interrogation room: You can either be a witness or a suspect, Vincent. One or the other.

Vincent Booker gave it up -- or at least gave as much of it as he dared -- and went home as a result. Robert Frazier lied his ass off and now he's going to the Western District lockup. In Rich Garvey's mind, there was a certain symmetry to all this.

At the booking desk of the Western, the contents of Robert Frazier's pockets are arrayed on the counter, then cataloged by the desk sergeant. From a front pocket comes a thick roll of drug money.

"Christ," says the sergeant, "there's more than $1,500 here."

"Big f - - - - - - deal," says Garvey. "I make that in a week."

Kincaid shoots Garvey a look. The governor, the mayor and half of the British royal family would have to be bludgeoned to death in the men's room of the Fayette Street bus station before a Baltimore detective would see that kind of money. But the desk sergeant understands.

"Yeah," he tells Garvey, loud enough for Frazier to hear. "And you didn't have to sell no dope for your paycheck, did you?"

Garvey nods.

"Officer Garvey . . ."

"Hey, Donald," says Garvey to Kincaid. "How 'bout I buy you a beer."

"Officer Garvey . . ."

"I might just have one tonight," says Kincaid. "I might just take you up on that."

"Officer Garvey, I ain't lied to you."

Garvey wheels around, but the turnkey is leading Frazier toward the rear cage door of the Western lockup.

"Officer Garvey, I ain't lied."

"Bye, Frazier. See you 'round."

For a few moments, Robert Frazier is framed by the outside cage door, waiting at the edge of the lockup as the turnkey prepares a fingerprint card. Garvey finishes playing with the paperwork on the booking desk and walks toward the back door of the station house. He glides past the lockup without looking inside, and so misses the final, unmistakable expression on Robert Frazier's face.

Pure, murderous hate.

From the book "Homicide" by David Simon, published b Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston, copyright 1991 by David Simon. Reprinted by permission.

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