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Crime

Jury begins deliberating whether Baltimore man is responsible for daughter’s murder, dismemberment

Dominique Foster needed her father, and she wanted him out of her life.

She needed him for money or to borrow his van. Yet, she would tell him “Leave me alone!” He texted her incessantly, messaging her adult children, too, saying he was disgusted by her lifestyle chasing drugs in the Baltimore streets.

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“Stop texting my kids pictures of me naked and shooting up,” she told him in one of many exchanges attorneys read to a Baltimore jury. “What did you get out of that?”

Jurors began deliberating Friday whether her father, Malik Samartaney, ended their volatile relationship by murdering Foster, dismembering her body to remove identifying features, wrapping her torso in four black trash bags, and leaving her remains in a shopping cart at a dumpster in Northwest Baltimore.

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Deliberations will resume Monday.

During closing arguments, Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Stock told jurors that Foster was doing well in drug treatment and ready to be free from her father’s manipulations.

“She was done with him,” Stock said, “so he was done with her.”

Formerly known as Lawrence Banks, Samartaney, a 68-year-old former Marine, is on trial for the first-degree murder of his daughter and the unauthorized disposal of her body two years ago. Through the nine-day trial in Baltimore Circuit Court, his attorneys presented a defense theory that Foster may have fallen victim to the notoriously brutal Latino street gang MS-13. A neighbor reported seeing Latino men around the dumpster where her body was found.

Police made the grisly discovery in May 2019, when a neighbor called 911 to report a suspicious package at the dumpster of the Clarks Lane Garden Apartments. Officers found a shopping cart stuffed with black trash bags; the bags dripped blood.

Her body was so mutilated that investigators could not identify her. When they circulated images of her tattoos, her daughter in North Carolina saw the photos and called police. Foster had been trying to get clean in Baltimore and been in and out of drug treatment centers.

It’s not the first time Samartaney has been accused of murder. He pleaded guilty to gunning down a drinking buddy in Anne Arundel County in the early 1990s. At the same time, he pleaded no contest to fatally shooting his teenage son in the head. He received two 20-year prison terms to be served simultaneously. He was released in October 2002.

In court records over the years, authorities have identified him as a suspect in the murder of his first wife in the 1970s, and in the killings of his girlfriend’s grown daughter and her infant granddaughter in 2006. The three deaths remain unsolved; he was never charged.

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When Foster was 7 months old in 1975, he threw her through a glass door during an argument with her mother. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for assault and released in December 1988.

Jurors heard nothing about his violent past, however, under an order from Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Schiffer. Maryland law generally bars prosecutors from admitting evidence of past crimes. The rule aims to ensure men and women are convicted only on evidence at trial — not on bad character.

Under the same principle, the judge barred prosecutors from presenting graphic text messages to accuse Samartaney of carrying on a sexual relationship with his daughter.

“Whatever you do in life, never threaten me again because there will be consequences,” he warned her in another text message read to jurors.

Foster’s children told detectives to investigate Samartaney because of their tumultuous relationship. She was last seen alive climbing into his white van.

That night, surveillance cameras captured a figure pushing the shopping cart with her remains down a wooded path to the dumpster. It was raining, and the downpours washed away any fingerprints. Samartaney lived 700 feet away in an apartment building up the path.

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Detectives found a pistol and stun gun stashed in his one-bedroom apartment. Samartaney may have shot her in the head and dismembered her in the bathtub, the prosecutor, Stock, told jurors.

An autopsy found blood in Foster’s lungs, a medical examiner testified. That could result from trauma to her head, such as a beating or gunshot, to cause bleeding into her sinuses.

Still, 19 days passed before detectives identified her remains and searched her father’s apartment.

“Nineteen days to clean, to shower, to run water down the shower drain,” Stock said.

Crime scene technicians found little forensic evidence.

“Use your common sense,” his defense attorney Brandon Taylor told the jury. “If she died in Mr. Banks’ apartment, blood would have been everywhere.”

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Technicians sprayed the chemical Luminol around his apartment to test for blood. The Luminol glowed beneath a doormat and in scattered places in the hallway. The test indicates a possible presence, but doesn’t confirm blood.

Rather, the state’s case hinged on cellphone GPS records that prosecutors say track Samartaney walking down the wooded path around the same time the figure caught on video pushes the cart. His defense attorneys noted discrepancies in the data.

His ex-girlfriend testified that when he returned from allegedly murdering Foster, he had scratches on his arms and neck. He explained these as burns when the radiator of his van overheated. His attorneys have drawn attention to a lack of forensic evidence.

He went fishing at North Point State Park after his daughter disappeared, but police divers searched the waters off the fishing pier and found no evidence. A police bloodhound sniffed around the dumpster and wooded path that led to Samartaney’s apartment building; the dog found nothing.

Investigators tore up the carpet in his van, but found no evidence of murder. They examined the tools in his two storage lockers, but, again, found nothing. His defense attorneys argued these investigatory dead-ends demonstrate his innocence.

Was she killed in the van or the apartment? Taylor asked the jury. Hit with a baseball bat or shot? he asked.

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“They were not even able to show you when she died,” he said.


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