Columbia Heights Murder Charge Dismissed

Minus indictment, government files motion to dismiss case against suspect in shooting, immolation death of gay man

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia on Wednesday filed a motion in D.C. Superior Court to dismiss without prejudice the case against Jermaine Brown, who faced a charge of felony murder in the killing of a gay man who was shot, then set ablaze in his Columbia Heights apartment last July.

This development comes two days before Brown was scheduled to appear in Superior Court for a felony status hearing. At Brown’s last hearing, April 18, Assistant U.S. Attorney Holly Schick informed the court that an indictment would be filed in time for Brown’s April 25 hearing.

However, despite a finding of probable cause that Brown could have committed the murder, issued by Judge Robert E. Morin, and a subsequent order requiring Brown to submit to DNA collection, the government has not been able to obtain the indictment it’s been pursuing since January.

As a result, Superior Court Judge Ronna Beck, standing in for Morin, issued an order for the D.C. Jail to release Brown, canceled his scheduled status hearing and jury trial, and granted the government’s motion to dismiss the case without prejudice. This means Brown can still be tried for Harris’s murder at a later date, should the U.S. Attorney’s Office and police secure more evidence to obtain an indictment against him.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the case, citing a standing policy of not discussing charging decisions. But the spokesman did say the government will continue to investigation despite dismissing the case.

According to charging documents, the D.C. Fire Department & Emergency Medical Services responded at 6:18 a.m. on July 26, 2013, to a call for an ”odor of smoke” in the 1000 block of Euclid Street NW, where they found 31-year-old Randolph Scott Harris Jr. restrained in a chair, but severely burned and suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Harris was transported to Washington MedStar Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. According to the District of Columbia Medical Examiner’s office, Harris’s death was ruled a homicide, caused by three gunshot wounds and burns from being set on fire while still alive.

Brown was arrested following a police investigation that connected him to the crime scene by witnesses. Other witnesses told police they had seen Brown with a bag containing various electronic devices, including an iPad, two iPhones, and an iPod touch, which had been left at the home of a third party. From there, a witness returned the bag to police who matched the serial numbers on the devices to packaging in Harris’s apartment.

Prior to his arrest, Brown was interviewed multiple times by police and was challenged on various inconsistencies in his statements to investigators that conflicted with information gathered from witnesses. In the course of one of the interview, Brown told police he had visited the victim, whom he referred to as ”Man,” and alleged that Man, who was gay, had tried to ”holla” at him, meaning initiate some sort of sexual relationship. Brown denied ever ”going that way” – or engaging in a sexual relationship with Harris – because he told police he saw something wrong with being gay and described it as ”nasty.” However, he later told police that he occasionally engaged in sex with men, but never with Harris.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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