A Baltimore police detective who had been investigating the disappearance of 8-year-old Marciana Ringo testified yesterday that within minutes of talking to Jamaal K. Abeokuto, he decided to call the homicide unit into the case.
Detective Timothy Rabbitt said he was immediately suspicious of Abeokuto's story, including a claim that he had driven in 30 minutes from the North Baltimore apartment where his girlfriend lived with her daughter, Marciana, and her son to his job in Aberdeen.
"I just couldn't believe that because I live in Havre de Grace," Rabbitt told the judge.
The detective's testimony came in the second day of Abeokuto's trial on charges that he kidnapped and killed his girlfriend's daughter, slitting her throat and leaving her to die in a wooded area of Harford County.
After Abeokuto requested a change of venue, the trial was moved to Baltimore County Circuit Court, where a judge - not a jury - is hearing the case that could bring the death penalty if Abeokuto is convicted.
Prosecutors continued laying out the evidence yesterday that they say will prove that on Dec. 3, 2002, when Marciana should have been walking to Northwood Elementary School, just across Loch Raven Boulevard from her apartment, Abeokuto abducted the girl and drove her to Joppatowne. Nine days later, two boys discovered the third-grader's body about 530 feet into the snow-covered woods at the end of a dead-end road.
Among the witnesses testifying yesterday was Wendy Woods, who became friendly with Abeokuto during the summer of 2002 and invited him to pool parties at her parents' house, which is less than a mile from the woods at Joppa Farm and Haverhill roads, where Marciana's body was found. She said that after she gave Abeokuto directions to the house, he suggested an alternate route, demonstrating a familiarity with the area.
Prosecutors also called as a witness Jimella Robinson, who lived downstairs from Milagro White, Marciana's mother. She testified that on the day Marciana disappeared, Abeokuto came to her apartment after he locked himself out of his girlfriend's place.
Although Robinson said she suggested he cross the street to the elementary school to get the key that Marciana wore around her neck, Abeokuto instead called a cab to go to Goucher College, where White worked, to borrow her key. Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly hinted at the neighbor's testimony in his opening statement Monday, saying that Abeokuto could not simply retrieve the child's key because only he knew she wasn't in school.
Rabbitt, the detective, explained how the missing-person investigation quickly turned more serious.
He testified that a 10-minute conversation with Abeokuto revealed inconsistencies.
Abeokuto told him that Marciana left the apartment about 7:30 a.m. to walk to school but returned five minutes later to get some homework signed, Rabbitt testified. Abeokuto told him that he drove the girl to school, dropping her off between 7:40 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. and getting to his job in Aberdeen by 8:15 a.m.
The story didn't add up, Rabbitt testified, not only because he didn't believe that Abeokuto could have made it to Aberdeen so quickly in rush-hour traffic but also because Marciana's father remembered arriving at the apartment complex at 7:42 that morning to take his son to day care and did not encounter Marciana or Abeokuto.
'I was very concerned'
The detective said he called the homicide unit and applied for search warrants for Abeokuto's home and car, his mother's home and the apartment where Marciana lived.
"From the information I had," he testified, "I was very concerned about the timeframe."
Testimony is scheduled to continue through the week.