WASHINGTON - A 24-year-old drug dealer pleaded guilty yesterday to killing an undercover Maryland trooper, admitting he gunned down the father of three without "a second thought" after calmly taking a last drag on a cigarette.
During an emotional hearing in a courtroom packed with troopers, federal agents and family members, Kofi Apea Orleans-Lindsay of Silver Spring was sentenced to life in prison without parole in the death last year of Cpl. Edward M. Toatley.
Federal prosecutors had been expected to seek the death penalty in the case but said yesterday that they entered into a plea agreement to spare friends and family members the emotional trauma of a lengthy trial and to ensure that Orleans-Lindsay would never leave prison.
They also said they wanted to prevent a critical piece of evidence - a videotape that recorded the killing in Northeast Washington - from becoming part of the "public domain" because it was too gruesome.
Toatley's widow, Inez, said she initially wanted prosecutors to seek the death penalty but later decided that "life in prison was a greater punishment than death."
"Every day for the rest of this man's natural life," she said, "is going to be behind bars."
Many in the courtroom shed tears and sniffled as Inez Toatley recounted for U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly how she put her ear to her husband's chest and listened to his beating heart as he died at a Washington hospital.
"My heart broke, and my soul was gone," Toatley said.
The Toatleys' youngest child, Taylor, was "just learning to say, 'Daddy'" when her father was murdered, she said.
Their 5-year-old son wanted to leave a hallway light on so "his daddy could find his way home."
Toatley's oldest son, Antoine, now 19, wrote a letter that a family friend read in court.
"I wanted him there to see me off to my high school prom," Antoine wrote. "My father did not see me graduate from high school. He could not take me to college. But as I think back, my father was there, he is with me always."
Assistant U.S. Attorney William J. O'Malley cried as he described a visit to Inez Toatley's home several months ago when he learned that the family had never had time to get a photograph taken of Toatley with his young daughter.
"This was a senseless and inexplicable crime," O'Malley said.
Toatley was working undercover as part of an FBI task force investigating drug dealing in Maryland and the Washington area and had purchased drugs from Orleans-Lindsay several times before he was killed, prosecutors said.
About 8 p.m. on Oct. 30 of last year, he picked up Orleans-Lindsay and drove him to the 2000 block of Douglas St., a dark and secluded residential neighborhood in Northeast Washington.
Payment in advance
There, he handed Orleans-Lindsay $3,500 for crack cocaine, and Orleans-Lindsay left the car, telling Toatley that he was going to retrieve the drugs.
Orleans-Lindsay returned a few minutes later, puffed on a cigarette, crushed it under his foot, then opened the passenger-side door to Toatley's car.
He pointed a handgun at Toatley and the two struggled briefly but the trooper was stuck in his seat belt. Orleans-Lindsay aimed and fired, hitting Toatley in the head.
Orleans-Lindsay walked away from the car and ran down an alley, hiding his gun and losing a key chain with "Kofi" imprinted on it as well as a newspaper clipping about the recent death of one of his partners in drug dealing.
Police arrested Orleans-Lindsay two weeks later in New York.
During the hearing, he answered dozens of questions from Kollar-Kotelly to determine what was going through his mind before he pulled the trigger.
He answered "yes" or "yeah" in a monotone.
He said he decided to kill Toatley after he "got out of the car" and walked around the corner. He became more sure he would kill the man - who he did not know was an undercover officer - on the short walk back.
"I was carrying out what I decided to do," said Orleans-Lindsay, who stood before the judge in a beige shirt, green pants, yellow tie and white sneakers.
"I didn't give it a second thought."
In court documents, prosecutors said that robbery - keeping the money Toatley paid him for drugs - was the apparent motive.
DNA and detective work
FBI agents and District of Columbia homicide detectives were able to link Orleans-Lindsay to the death through hidden video cameras in Toatley's car that recorded the incident, DNA samples from the suspect's cigarette, a recovered handgun and the detailed investigation into the man's drug dealing.
Detectives had conceded that the tapes did not show the face of the killer - a fact that Orleans-Lindsay's defense lawyers vigorously argued in a bail hearing last year.
But a new set of defense lawyers apparently decided that that wasn't enough to sway a judge and jury, and entered into the plea agreement.
When Orleans-Lindsay ran away, detectives believe, he hid the murder weapon, a semiautomatic handgun that a local resident found in July, prosecutors said.
FBI agents linked the gun to a shell casing found at the scene. They also said they found the man who gave the gun to Orleans-Lindsay.
After the murder, Orleans-Lindsay was driven by a friend to a local motel, where he registered under his friend's name.
The next day, he fled to New York by train.
The man who bought Orleans-Lindsay the gun and the one who helped him escape are cousins. Another drug dealer helped hide the fugitive in New York. Although authorities know the men's identities, none has been charged in the case.
The investigation is continuing, prosecutors said.
'Showed no mercy'
Col. David B. Mitchell, state police superintendent, told Kollar-Kotelly that Toatley "was a clear example of professionalism and dedication to duty. ... He was one of the best undercover officers in the nation."
Orleans-Lindsay "stole that life in the only way he could steal that of a man of Ed Toatley's character and ability - he ambushed Ed Toatley," Mitchell said. "The defendant showed no mercy for my trooper."