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Annapolis police cold case squad investigating as family awaits justice for Charles Carroll four years later

Beverly Reed visits her son’s grave in Glen Burnie every day.

She’s always cleaning up the site where Charles Carroll Jr., known to many as CJ, rests and her grandchildren ask why she spends so much time there at the cemetery. She tells them she always took care of CJ and this is her only means to do so anymore.

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“I want people to know he was very much loved,” she said.

On Tuesday, she tidied up a little extra as family members gathered that evening to pass another milestone without closure. They placed flowers on the stone and, strung up balloons shaped like white doves from the adjacent marble bench. They shared in the memories. The day marked four years since Carroll Jr. was gunned down in Annapolis. He was 25 years old.

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Despite evidence in the case pointing to two men already behind bars, police and prosecutors haven’t been able to pin Carroll Jr.‘s killing on them.

His family has been patiently waiting for justice, but it’s been a long time coming.

Putting puzzles together

Carroll Jr.‘s case went cold a while back as the Annapolis police department has cycled through four different chiefs and a new county state’s attorney. But for the first time in a while, Carroll Jr.‘s father and namesake, Bishop Charles Carroll, is feeling hopeful and included.

Bringing families in on their late loved ones’ cases is one of the priorities of cold case investigator Stanley Brandford. He doesn’t promise convictions but assures accessibility.

Police Chief Ed Jackson hired Brandford in January to provide a fresh but experienced set of eyes to review dozens of unsolved homicide cases. He retired from the Baltimore Police Department as a colonel and commander of the homicide division. One set of eyes multiplied to three a few months into the new job; Brandford has a cold case squad.

One May morning, Detectives Gerrard Williams and William Noel sat across from each other at a conference table at the police station on Taylor Avenue. Between them was a pile of bankers boxes, from which emerged heavy-duty binders emblazoned with blue block letters: H-O-M-I-C-I-D-E.

Each thick file contains an unexplored clue, at least that’s how the investigators see it. But don’t mistake their job for a true-crime show. Investigating cold cases is tedious work.

They spend hours combing through these files, reviewing the original investigator’s notes, looking over ballistics or forensic reports, listening to or watching interviews, verifying the police department still has the evidence and that it’s still viable. They follow up with witnesses to make sure they’re alive and stories haven’t changed.

They do all of this in hopes of finding a sliver of something new: the name of a person not yet interviewed, an inconsistent statement, an opportunity to analyze evidence with advanced technology.

“It’s still putting puzzles together,” Noel said.

The caseload keeps climbing. The city has recorded 89 homicides since 2000. Police have closed all but 32. At least four of those unsolved murders happened this year and remain under the purview of the Criminal Investigations Division. But it doesn’t take long for a case to go cold — just whenever leads dry up — and Jackson said Brandford’s team is looking at three open homicides from 2019.

“I think someday down the line we’re going to solve a case,” Brandford said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”

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Two suspects but no eye witness

Carroll Jr. was in his car in the Bywater Mutual Homes community on July 28, 2016, when he was shot six times around 9:30 p.m. Police said his car continued down Royal Street until it smashed into the side of an end-of-the-row unit. Newer bricks outline where the Infinity sedan crashed. Carroll Jr. was found slumped inside.

It was raining that night and a power surge knocked out surveillance cameras in the community, according to the investigative report — facts that did no favors for investigators then or now.

He was caught in a deadly dispute between the Bywater neighborhood and Newtowne 20, a public housing community, cold-case detectives said. The communities are separated by a short stretch of Forest Drive and their conflict set off a surge of violence in 2016 that saw Carroll Jr. become the seventh of a record 10 homicides in Annapolis that year.

Detectives said Carroll Jr. was friendly with both sides. He was convicted in 2012 of distributing drugs in Annapolis. Eventually, the detectives believe, the Bywater crew were fed-up Carroll Jr. didn’t choose sides.

“We’re not in a believing business,” Noel said. “We’re in a proving business.”

Brandford said the evidence suggests it was a robbery. Carroll Jr. died with $540 in cash and a flip phone on his person, an iPhone, and hard drives in his car, according to the investigative file.

A day after the fatal shooting somebody called police with an anonymous tip: Two men from the Bywater community were responsible for his homicide, according to the investigative report. It was the first in a series of intel implicating them.

In November that year, detectives learned of someone who may have witnessed the killing and potentially knew where the murder weapon was hidden, the investigative report details. There was another tip, too, this one from behind bars: someone police suspected apparently admitted opening fire on Carroll Jr. with a revolver.

Detectives also confirmed that Carroll Jr. was talking to one of the suspected men’s “burner” phones shortly before the killing.

Another person said they spoke to Carroll Jr. before he was killed. He said he was going to meet one of the two men, according to the investigative file. Another police interview pointed to the presence of a getaway driver. Detectives wrote they recovered a 9 mm handgun from the alleged getaway driver’s car and that a ballistics analysis determined it fired the shell casings found at the scene.

Both men suspected in Carroll Jr.’s death are serving time on murder-conspiracy convictions for a fatal shooting in Glen Burnie. Proving their connection to his death has been difficult. It was challenging for prosecutors to prove they killed the man in Glen Burnie, leading to lesser charges or pleas.

Police have presented Carroll’s case to prosecutors before. Detectives said they were told to dig deeper. So it’s up to Brandford, Noel and Williams to come back with something stronger.

“We have a lot of evidence, but we don’t have an eye witness,” Brandford said. It’s something he’s come across in many of the unsolved murders he has reviewed. He said it’s a sign of the community lacking trust in the police.

Trust and convictions

Mayor Gavin Buckley cited a fractured relationship between the community and police when he fired the former police chief and nominated Jackson, who prioritizes community policing.

Jackson expects his cold case squad to play an important role in rebuilding trust and brought on Officer Robert Horne to institute a reentry program under Brandford’s supervision. Horne coordinated such a program for the Baltimore Police Department, so Jackson and Brandford hope he can connect returning felons with the legions of resources he’s developed over decades.

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It’s been about a month and Horne and his partner have served 31 clients in conjunction with the Department of Parole and Probation, which sends those returning from prison to the police station to meet with Horne or his partner.

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The reentry program connects people with temporary housing, substance abuse or mental health treatment, job training or employment.

Horne and his colleagues follow up with phone visits and take clients’ calls to help with problems. When those returning from prison reintegrate into the community, the program ensures they have a positive impact, or, as Jackson puts it “help us turn these mean streets around.”

The clients have credibility with youth heading down the wrong path, and can help them turn their lives around, Horne said. The program isn’t just for those who’ve been incarcerated; it’s about preventing those in the community from getting to that point by connecting them with the same resources as returners.

Brandford said Horne’s month in the community has already paid dividends. He’s sent back information that’s helped police prevent conflicts during a deadly summer. Jackson and Brandford hope that’ll turn into tips about unsolved homicides.

“There have been times when people in the community wouldn’t tell us a damn thing, but they would tell Rob,” said Brandford, recalling their time together in Baltimore.

A last resort

Building trust takes time that Brandford and his detectives know the families don’t have. They recognize that cases generally don’t get stronger over time, as memories fade and evidence withers.

With Carroll Jr.’s case, they have one last lead to pursue before turning to the last resort: pitting suspects against each other.

Phone data told them a lot about the two men’s whereabouts around the time of Carroll Jr.’s death, but the detectives said it’s not specific enough to stand up in court. Right now, Noel and Williams are writing warrants for unique cell phone data hoping that a new technique called “Geofencing” can place the men at the scene.

If it’s done right, Noel said, “We go from 2016 I know you were in that neighborhood to 2020 where I know you’re in a specific residence.”

Like revelations with DNA testing, the GPS-based data technique is evidence of why investigators don’t give up on old cases.

With new information, they can interview the two persons of interest. They have not been questioned in the Carroll Jr. case. If the detectives know a person’s exact whereabouts and their alibi doesn’t add up, it can be telling, they said.

If the technology doesn’t pan out — something they won’t know for many months — it’s back to the prosecutors to discuss proffers, a deal for one person to turn on the other in exchange for something like a reduced sentence. They’ll have to be confident of who’s most culpable and be able to come to an agreement with prosecutors and, likely, a defense attorney.

In the meantime, Reed will probably swing by Subway between shifts at a hospice care facility and eat her sandwich by her son’s grave. She said she sits there and talks to him.

“He was the type of person that no matter what, he made you feel good about yourself,” she said.

And she’ll still field questions from her grandchildren, who Reed said are just too young to understand. “His 4-year-old always asks, ‘when I turn five, will he be coming back?’”

The senior Carroll, the prominent pastor, keeps presiding over funerals resulting from similar violence. The latest, a 14-year-old shot to death in Annapolis. While family gathered by Carroll Jr.‘s grave, gunshots rang out again in the city.

“Here we are four years later dealing with the same things: Murder,” Carroll said.

But they won’t let life distract them. In separate conversations, the parents kept coming back to the same word.

Justice.

Anyone with information about Carroll Jr.‘s or any other unsolved killing in Annapolis is encouraged to contact cold case detectives at 410-268-9000. If a person wishes to remain anonymous, they can call Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-7LOCKUP, where a tip that leads to an arrest or indictment could be eligible for a cash reward.

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