10 Murder Trials

10 Murder Trials

Selection of some high-profile murder trials during Robert F. Horan's career.

Roy Rogers Massacre

The freezer of the Roy Rogers Restaurant on Little River Turnpike in Alexandria turned into a mass grave the night of March 6, 1976.

The freezer also saved the life of Julie Nakpodia, who survived in spite of being shot twice in the brain.

In November of 1976, Horan prosecuted James Leroy Breeden, 40 at the time of the crimes. A Fairfax County jury found him guilty of the largest mass killing in Fairfax history.

"We were just fortunate that the one girl survived. She got two bullets in her head and she survived it and wound up my witness," Horan said, 27 years after the murders. "Doctors said that actually the cold of the refrigerator slowed up her metabolism enough that she was still alive when the doors were opened the next day. She was a very lucky girl."

Between 12:30 and 1:45 a.m., Breeden ordered five people to the restaurant's walk-in freezer. There, he murdered Nakpodia's husband, Edward Nakpodia, 25, a divinity student, who was shot at least four times; Annandale resident Patrick Marcil, 22, a clerk for the FBI who suffered five gunshots to the head, thorax and abdomen; Anthony Dennis Gildea, 32, a manager for Marriott who was shot twice in the head; and Richard Moorefield, 19, a student who was also shot twice in the head.

Julie Nakpodia was the only survivor.

Breeden's lawyers requested that the case be moved outside Fairfax County because of pre-trial publicity surrounding the crime. The request was denied.

More than 100 witnesses testified during the trial.

Breeden was sentenced to four life terms in prison for the murders, life for the robbery, plus 20 years for the malicious wounding of Nakpodia.

Breeden was not eligible for the death penalty since no executions took place in the United States from 1967-1976 while the United States Supreme Court considered cases that led to the invalidation of the death penalty statutes in 40 states in 1972. The first execution in the United States — as well as in Virginia — after modern death penalty laws were rewritten took place in 1977.

CIA Shooter Executed

Robert F. Horan Jr. and the Commonwealth of Virginia waited four-and-a-half years before prosecuting Mir Aimal Kasi, who killed two CIA employees and injured three others on the morning of Jan. 25, 1993 in McLean.

That Monday morning, at approximately 8 a.m., Kasi emerged from a vehicle behind a row of cars, which were stopped at a traffic light, waiting to make a left turn from Rte. 123 into the main entrance to the headquarters of the CIA.

Armed with a AK-47 assault rifle, Kasi opened fire as he walked down the row of automobiles. Within seconds, Kasi murdered Frank Darling and Lansing Bennett and wounded Nicholas Starr, Calvin Morgan and Stephen Williams — all CIA employees.

Kasi, who had been living in Reston with his friend Zahed Mir, fled the scene. A day after the shooting, he escaped to Pakistan. Mir reported Kasi as a missing person two days later. Kasi remained the subject of an international manhunt for more than four years.

In the early morning of June 15, 1997, FBI agents caught Kasi in a hotel room in Pakistan. He was hooded, shackled and transported by air and vehicle to a jail-like facility in Pakistan, which later consented to his extradition to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

During the flight back to Fairfax, Kasi gave an oral and written confession of the crimes to FBI agent Bradley J. Garrett. Garrett more recently served as part of the task force investigating last year's sniper shootings and is expected be a witness in the upcoming trials of sniper suspects Lee Boyd Malvo and John Allen Muhammad.

"I shot approximately 10 rounds, shooting five people," Kasi said in an interview with agent Garrett. "I aimed for the chest of the people I shot.

"Several days before the shooting I decided to do the shooting at the CIA or the Israeli Embassy."

When Garrett asked Kasi why he stopped shooting at the CIA headquarters, Kasi said, "there wasn't anybody else left to shoot." He also told Garrett that he only shot males because it was against his religion to shoot females.

Frank Darling's wife, who was a front-seat passenger the morning of Jan. 25, 1993, testified during Kasi's trial.

Federal agents turned Kasi over to Fairfax County for prosecution. There was no provision for the death penalty for a defendant charged with a federal crime at the time.

The trial garnered international attention and heightened security to the Fairfax Circuit Court, including police sharp shooters on nearby rooftops. Kasi's attorneys asked for the trial to be moved out of Fairfax, but the request was denied.

On Feb. 4, 1998, after three post-trial hearings, Kasi was sentenced to death for capital murder. He was executed on Nov. 14, 2002.

Conviction without Body

Caleb Daniel Hughes convicted of abduction; Melissa Brannen, 5, missing since 1989.

With her mother literally feet away, Melissa Brannen, 5, disappeared from a Christmas party at the Woodside Apartment complex in Fairfax on Dec. 3, 1989. She has never been found.

"That was such a sad case … that was a heartbreaker," Robert F. Horan Jr. said, 14 years later.

Caleb Daniel Hughes, who had recently been hired as the groundskeeper for the complex, attended the party socially. He got to the party at 7:30 p.m., approximately 15 minutes after Melissa and her mother arrived.

Hughes approached Melissa and her mother, according to court documents, a few times during the evening. At approximately 10 p.m., Melissa's mother told her it was time to go. Melissa asked if she could get some potato chips first.

As Melissa's mother got her coat and said goodbye to friends, Melissa was missing. Hughes was seen near Melissa when she went to get potato chips.

Police immediately tried to find Hughes after Melissa was discovered missing, but didn't locate him until 1 a.m., three hours later. Hughes couldn't account for his actions during that time. Hughes initially told police that he didn't know Melissa and had not spoken to her at the party.

According to court documents, Hughes put his clothes immediately into the washing machine when he arrived home. One expert at his trial said stains on Hughes' sneakers revealed a human serum protein that came from human blood; another expert said he didn't detect blood on the shoes. Fibers and human hairs found in Hughes car were linked to hairs on Melissa's hair brush, hairs on her night shirt and to a duplicate outfit from J.C. Penney that she had worn to the party.

On May 7, 1991, a jury sentenced Hughes 50 years for the abduction of Melissa Brannen and with the intent to defile.

"He got away with murder, I've always thought," said Horan. "We couldn't prove what actually happened to her, so we tried him as an abductor rather than a killer because we couldn't prove where it occurred."

Hughes was defended by Peter Greenspun, who is currently defending sniper suspect John Lee Muhammad.

Hughes will be eligible for parole and will probably be released from jail around 2010, according to Horan. "There ought to be a rule against it, but he'll be out. He got 50 years and he's eligible and at some point, the lines cross and it's mandatory [for his release.]"

Melissa Brannen's family continues to be advocates for missing and exploited children.

7-Eleven Killing

Bobby Lee Ramdass, 21, crouched next to 7-Eleven clerk Moyammad Z. Kayani, 34, at one in the morning on Sept. 2, 1992.

Ramdass yelled at Kayani to open the store safe "or I'll blow your [expletive] head off."

The 7-Eleven safe was a time-delay safe, one that Kayani could not open.

"The clerk is down, blood coming out of his mouth and ears. Crouched over him, gun in hand, is Bobby Lee Ramdass," said Robert F. Horan, during opening arguments of the 1992 Fairfax trial. "What does he say? After he killed that poor man, what he says is, 'He took too long. He had to go.' And then he left."

Candilerio Ramirez, an accomplice in the robbery, testified on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia against Ramdass. The three other co-defendants as well as customers who were in the store at the time testified for Horan as well.

"I saw the 7-Eleven clerk lying on the floor. He was bleeding from his mouth and his ears and his eyes," Ramirez said. "I came out and Bobby was standing over him, laughing."

Ramdass planned to rob a Roy Rogers restaurant the night of Sept. 1, 1992 with Darrell Wilson, Shane Singh, Edward O'Connor and Ramirez. The restaurant was closed.

On their drive home, Ramdass decided they would rob a 7-Eleven on Beulah Street in the Springfield District instead.

"That's what we are dealing with here. The willful, deliberate and premeditated killing of the clerk because he took too long."

To support a sentence of death, Horan introduced evidence of Ramdass' past crimes including multiple armed robberies, including beating and shooting some of his victims, attempted murder and purse snatching.

Ramdass wrote Judge Robert W. Wooldrige Jr. eight years after he was sentenced to death for his crime to ask that his death sentence be set aside. Ramdass said that the jury would not have sentenced him to death if they had known that he could be sentenced to life with no possibility of being released.

"I'm a better person than I used to be. At least I hope so. … I killed and I am ready to die for that ...

"The reason I'm writing this letter is my family. I promised them I would try my best to live for them. To be honest I hate prison but I love them so I'd lie here forever for them …

"I have never been into a fight or hurt anyone since I've been on death row. right now, I'm the barber. It's like four people here who can come out without handcuffs or shackles. I am one of them. I've been trying my best believe me to be the best person I can possibly be."

Ramdass was executed on Oct. 10, 2000.

First Juvenile Executed

Dwayne Allen Wright is the first person executed by Virginia under modern death penalty laws for a crime committed when he was a juvenile. Wright was executed on Oct. 14, 1998.

Driving a stolen Buick on the night of Oct. 13, 1989, Wright, 17 at the time, followed Saba Tekle, 33, from the highway. Tekle was driving her friend's car to her apartment off Rte 236 in Annandale.

"I saw her driving in a burgundy Maxima on the highway. I followed her into the complex," Wright told Fairfax police investigator T. J. Lyons.

"I asked her to give me the car key," Wright said, after his arrest. He then "told her to take her clothes off."

About 9 p.m., Tekle's sister, Seble Kasa, heard her sister calling to her and their mother for help outside their apartment. Seble Kasa then heard two gunshots, "one right after the other." When she opened the door, she found her sister lying on the floor at the bottom of a flight of stairs.

Tekle had been shot by Wright in the right upper back. "She ran in front of me and started screaming and then she ran," Wright told police.

The stolen Buick, engine running, was found in the parking lot and the left portion of its steering column ripped off. Wright's fingerprints were found on the car. On Oct. 14, a police officer in Washington, D.C. caught Wright after spotting him driving the Maxima.

At the sentencing portion of Wright's trial, Horan presented evidence that Wright had been on a murder spree on the days before he murdered Tekle. Evidence including Wright's confession to D.C. police that he had killed Odell Thomas on Oct. 9, 1989 after Thomas robbed him of a gold chain, beeper and his friend of money.

Horan also presented records from the Circuit Court of Prince George's County, Md. that Wright pled guilty on Aug. 31, 1990 to attempted first degree murder and use of a handgun in the murder of Reginald Turman, who was killed on Oct. 12, 1989.

A Fairfax jury recommended Wright's death based on future dangerousness.

Children Kidnapped

Kenneth Allen Dawson, 11, was last seen alive on March 20, 1976.

Pedophile Arthur Frederick Goode III, then 21, kidnapped the 65-pound boy from Falls Church. He sexually molested Kenny and then murdered him in the woods of Tysons Corner, where Tysons Galleria stands now.

More than 27 years later, Robert F. Horan Jr. still remembers the horror of the crime scene in Tysons Corner.

"Arthur Frederick Goode, talk about one horrible human being," Horan said. "I can remember going out there when the police called me, and I remember looking at that dead kid and, wow, that will take something out of you."

Goode forced another boy that he abducted from Baltimore to watch while he murdered Kenny. That boy, a son of a Johns Hopkins professor at the time, later brought Fairfax police to the crime scene and described what he saw. He eventually became one of Horan's key witness in prosecuting Goode.

After Goode murdered Kenneth Dawson, he added to the torture he inflicted on Dawson's family by writing to them from prison, telling them about their son's murder.

Goode also wrote a letter — including horrific details of his crimes — to the parents of Jason VerDow, 9, whom he sexually assaulted and murdered in Florida.

A Fairfax jury sent Goode to prison for life. He was then extradited to Florida and was executed for his crime there.

"Mr. Goode is an immature, inadequate individual of dull normal intelligence who acts out on a sexual level with children because of fear and rejection from his peer group," wrote James Dimitris, the Forensics Unit Director from Central State Hospital in Florida. "Consider him to be dangerous with a poor prognosis for the future because of a low frustration tolerance when thwarted from his aim of immediate gratification."

Goode was executed on April 15, 1984 in Florida.

Jury Rejects Death

Successful mitigation; will it work for Malvo?

Kamal S. Muwwakkil, 1993 killing of Dale Harold Fredericks

Not many Fairfax Circuit Court juries have shocked Robert F. Horan Jr. over the years. One jury did in 1994, during the sentencing phase of the trial of Kamal S. Muwwakkil.

"Of all the juries' verdicts I've had, that one surprised me — it was such an outrageous killing, an at-random selection, that poor band member," Horan said, nine years after the trial.

On June 11, 1993, Muwwakkil, then 19, and his friends followed Marine trombonist Dale Harold Fredericks, 38, of Falls Church, to steal his car.

On a cul-de sac near Frederick's house on Gentle Lane, Muwwakkil forced Fredericks out of his car, robbed him of his wallet and money and then told him to lay down.

"Your honor, this was an execution style killing. The man gave up everything. He gave up his keys, he gave up his wallet," Horan said during a pre-trial hearing in 1994. "[Muwwakkil] then blew his head off with a shotgun, blew his brain 10 feet from his body."

"In my opinion, that's vileness," Horan said, during a pre-trial hearing in 1994. "We think that anybody who would commit such an act has implicit ability to be dangerous in the future."

Vileness and future dangerousness are two criteria allowed by the commonwealth in asking for the death penalty.

While Muwwakkil was found guilty of the murder, a Fairfax jury spared him from the death penalty.

His defense attorney argued that extreme abuse in childhood by his mother made Mawwakkil less responsible for his actions.

"Normally you have family members sobbing and it's not an effective mitigation tool," said Notre Dame Law School associate professor Joanmarie I. Davoli, a former Fairfax County public defender who represented Muwwakkil. "I had a kid who was damaged by a lot of horrific situations, in some ways similar to Malvo."

Muwwakkil's mother, according to Davoli, was not just mentally ill, but didn't treat her illnesses and became violent as a result. One time, Muwwakkil's mother threw him out a second-floor apartment window. Other times she dragged him through the streets of D.C. during psychotic episode.

Police officers from Washington D.C. testified during the sentencing phase that they knew both Muwwakkil and his mother because of his chaotic home life and confirming his abuse.

"I reinvestigated his entire life," Davoli said.

Horan believed that the concentration on his past kept the jury's focus away from the defendant and his crimes, Horan said.

"Muwwakkil killed out of meanness, ultimate meanness. The fact that he had a tough childhood, to me, didn't mitigate what he did," Horan recently said.

"We ended up trying the defendant's mother for being a horrible human being. The jury ended up sitting there day after day, hearing what a horrible childhood Muwwakkil had. It must have affected the jury because the came back with life [in prison.] It was a surprising verdict for me."

Insanity Defense Denied

Ada Sanderson, 71, lived by herself just outside the city of Falls Church.

"From what we know of her, she was a good Samaritan," Robert F. Horan Jr. said during the trial of Jeannette G. Harper in 1993.

Sanderson rented one room in her house to Harper — a 1978 graduate of Duke University who majored in social psychology — on and off from 1990 until July 8, 1993, the day Harper murdered her.

"[Sanderson] took this person in time after time when others wouldn't," said Horan.

Harper, who has a history of mental illness, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizo-affective disorder, was charged with a 1986 murder in West Virginia but was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

After she was released from the psychiatric hospital, approved by the courts of West Virginia, Harper moved to Virginia where she met her future housemate.

Sanderson suffered fatal stab wounds to her head, throat, lungs, face, mouth, cheek, ears, scalp, upper arms and hands, as well as 14 to her upper back. Police discovered at least 15 exit wounds on her body.

"On the way home, I bought a knife with the intention of killing Ada Sanderson," Harper said, in a statement to police on July 8, 1993.

"I stabbed her as many times as I could until she stopped moving."

A Fairfax jury found Harper guilty in February 1994 and sentenced her to life in prison.

Harper, who had be institutionalized on and off since 1978, blamed her housemate for the murder.

"She turned out to be the type of person who likes to take control of every aspect of a person's life, ruin it, and then take all the gain she could from the ruins," wrote Harper, in a letter that she read as testimony during her trial.

Earlier on the day of the murder, police responded to a report of an altercation at Sanderson's home and took Harper to the Woodburn Clinic in Fairfax.

"The evidence will be that Mrs. Sanderson didn't want to press charges," Horan said during the trial. Harper was seen by a mental health professional that morning and released later that same day of the murder.

"Somewhere around 6 p.m. she left the Woodburn Center and headed back to Rogers Drive," Horan said.

"I was having a lot of emotional problems, I've got witnesses to that, so I'm just going to plead insanity," Harper wrote in the same letter she wished to read on the witness stand. "Life's rough."

"You'd better give me the electric chair or I'm going to do it again," she told Fairfax police, after her arrest.

Horan's closing arguments in the Harper case offer an example to his approach to countering defendants who claim they are not responsible for their crimes for psychological reasons.

"Members of the jury, it is so easy to try to confuse people on what the issue is in trials such as this, to try to bog people down with the mumbo jumbo of psychiatry, all of the things they want us to read into human behavior. But the law has made that very narrow. Mental illness is not a license to kill. You'll notice that we don't say in any of these forms 'not guilty by reason of mental illness.' We say 'not guilty by reason of insanity.'

"If this defendant was in the midst of a psychotic episode when she did this killing, she would be insane. But there's no evidence she's in the middle of a psychiatric episode. As a matter of fact, the evidence of this — closest in time to the killing — is to the contrary."

Murder for Hire

James Clark's death sentence, upheld by a 7-0 vote in Virginia's Supreme Court, was reduced to life after a Federal judge ruled that Clark was not adequately defended by counsel during the sentencing portion of his trial.

Clark was convicted in the murder of George H. Scarborough, who owned a gas station. Clark and a cousin, Daniel Stewart, testified that they were hired by a friend of Scarborough's estranged wife to murder him.

Stewart received the death penalty from a Fairfax jury. Horan agreed that if Stewart testified against Clark, he would request that the judge not give him the death penalty.

"On hindsight, that was a pretty good decision because Stewart really wasn't as bad as the evidence made him out to be. He was somewhat dominated by Clark who was a real tough guy," Horan said. "Stewart has been an excellent prisoner in the Virginia system. I'm a little surprised he's still locked up."

The woman who set up the entire murder, also received life in prison but was released on parole four years ago, Horan said.

"Stewart justifiably complains that he was no worse than her and she's out and he's been an excellent prisoner, well behaved and he's still in. He thought it was unfair," Horan said. "He has a point."

Before his death sentence was overturned, Clark was only the third person sentenced to death by a jury in the United States after death penalty legislation was reenacted in 1977.

July Fireworks

In the middle of an intersection of Columbia Pike on the Fourth of July, 1969, Roger Whitney confronted a Navy commander and his family who were returning from watching the fireworks in Washington, D.C.

"Whitney, who is a big guy, got in a fight with the Navy commander and knocked him down," Robert. F. Horan Jr. said. When the commander's son got out of the van to help his father, Whitney knocked them both down, semi-conscious in a median strip of Columbia Pike.

Whitney went back to his car to get a gun and killed both the commander and his son while their family in the van watched.

Horan asked for the death penalty in the case, but the Fairfax jury gave him a double life term in prison.

"The trial judge left four jury members on that case who didn't believe in the death penalty," Horan said. "There was no chance."