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The Tell-Tale Heart

Sebastian Carter stands trial for the murder of Lawrence Sims.

The prosecutor walked toward the center of the Alexandria courtroom. The accused looked toward the floor while the mother of the deceased ran from the courtroom in tears. Uncontrollable sobbing could be heard from the hall as the defense attorney blinked his eyes nervously. The jurors focused their eyes on the defendant.

“Lawrence Sims’ earthly heart stopped beating after he left the alley where the murder happened,” said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter as he launched into his closing statement. “But the defendant heard his tell-tale heart throughout this case.”

Invoking Edgar Allen Poe’s 1843 short story “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Porter said that Sebastian Carter, 22, was so overcome with guilt that he was forced to admit to the Dec. 27 murder of Sims, 22. The argument capped several days of emotional testimony in which several friends and acquaintances testified that Carter admitted to the crime.

“Ridiculous,” retorted defense attorney Gary Smith. “The foundation of the commonwealth’s case is its witnesses, and the superstructure of the argument is weak and rickety. They’ve got no evidence that directly links the defendant to this crime.”

At press time, the jury had not yet returned with a verdict.

COURT RECORDS show that Carter was immediately a suspect. An incident report by homicide detective Tom Durkin filed shortly after the murder indicates that Sims was found lying unconscious on the north side of the 800 block of Montgomery Street on the evening of Dec. 27, his head to the east and his feet to the west. He had been shot several times to the upper body, and Alexandria Police officers had canvassed the area for hours in search of clues.

“The location where the victim was found was littered with shredded articles of clothing and medical paraphernalia,” Durkin wrote. “It was reported to this detective that the victim had an ongoing feud with Sebastian ‘Scoon’ Carter.”

Durkin’s report indicates that the two men had an ongoing dispute, with one heated argument the day before and another earlier that day. Officer Jeffrey Sledge was one of the first responders, arriving at the murder scene shortly after the Alexandria Police Department received notification that shots had been fired in the area. His incident report details the unsuccessful attempt to revive Sims, with a medical team eventually arriving at the Montgomery Street location to transport the body to the hospital.

“At that time, there were a group of worried neighbors huddled around the body,” Sledge wrote. “I advised the neighbors to step away from the body.”

The next day, an autopsy indicated that Sims had died as a result of “multiple gunshot wounds” — two to the front and two to the back. The coroner’s report indicated that each bullet left a “hemorrhagic wound path,” draining the life out of the 22-year-old Alexandria native as he succumbed on the side yard of St. John’s Baptist Church.

“Postmortem examination reveals a well-developed, well-nourished black male,” wrote coroner pathologist Todd Luckasevic. “There were no signs of close-range firing on the skin.”

CARTER WAS ARRESTED a few days later for stalking Sims’ girlfriend. A warrant of arrest was secured at 6:50 p.m. on Dec. 28 — just hours after the murder. In the criminal complaint, Nickia Jackson writes about being repeatedly harassed by Carter. She writes he punched her in the face, hid in her bedroom closet, assaulted her in the street and tried to use a ladder to climb into her second-story bedroom.

“Sebastian Carter and myself broke up approximately March of 2005,” wrote Nickia Jackson in the criminal complaint. “Dec. 28 at about 4:30 a.m. I called police to my home because he was banging on my windows and doors, and threatening me. He has threatened to kill me on all of these occasions, and I am now in fear for my life.”

The prosecution report, which is dated Dec. 31, says that the lingering dispute between Carter and Sims involved more than a fight over Jackson.

“There was an argument between the victim and suspect over $20,” the report says. “Suspect gave an alibi which proved to be false. Suspect confided in several people that he had shot the victim.”

DURING THE TWO-DAY trial, prosecutors presented several witnesses who testified that Carter admitted the crime. One after one, they sat next to Circuit Court Judge John Kloch in Courtroom 1 and described how Carter plotted to murder Sims — who was perceived as an interloper, an outsider from the District who was moving in on Carter’s territory and stealing his woman. Carter’s former girlfriend, Charlene Ira, broke down in tears as prosecutors questioned her about Carter’s confession.

“What did he say?” asked Porter.

“That he shot him because he was defending himself.”

James McCray, an inmate who was imprisoned with Carter in Arlington, said that the defendant also confessed to him during several conversations in Section 11A of the jail. McCray testified that Carter told him he felt compelled to murder Sims as a matter of neighborhood pride.

“He came up with a plan to lure the guy into an alley,” McCray said.

McCray said he felt compelled to testify in the case when he learned Carter planned to organize a hit on a potential witness in the case. He testified that he heard Carter order the murder of a 13-year-old girl — the sister of Sims’ girlfriend — who was nearby when the murder happened.

“He said, ‘We’ve got to get rid of the girl,’” McCray said. “He wanted to kill her.”

CARTER’S OWN WORDS were used by prosecutors, who introduced a letter into evidence that they said implicates Carter. The defense attorney did not call Carter to the stand, so he could not testify about the contents of the handwritten letter. But portions of the letter, which was written to his former girlfriend, were read aloud in court. In the letter, Carter apologizes for not telling her about Sims’ murder.

“I’m street,” Carter wrote in the letter. “I live by the gun, and I die by the gun.”

Portions of three telephone conversations were also played in court, and Carter could be heard laughing about Sims’ death and plotting a legal strategy to thwart the prosecution. Over and over, Carter’s former girlfriend could be heard warning Carter about saying too much on the telephone lines that were monitored.

“They record everything,” Ira said during an April 6 telephone conversation.

Prosecutors also introduced a 1960s-era revolver into evidence as Commonwealth’s Exhibit 15. The 22-caliber weapon was found in a sewer near the crime scene, and it had corroded to the point that the forensic scientist who examined it could not make a determination that it was the one used in the murder. But he said that the rifling in the barrel of the weapon was in the same direction as the weapon that fired the four bullets recovered from Sims’ body.

“There was nothing to indicate that this firearm was not used to fire these bullets,” said Gary Arntsen, the forensic scientist who examined the revolver. “It’s not a particularly high quality firearm.”

A NATIVE OF ALEXANDRIA, Sims grew up in the District and graduated from Coolidge High School in 2000. He attended Strayer University, where he studied computers. He worked as an intern for the Department of Defense from May 2003 to January 2005. He was a member of the youth choir at Zion Baptist Church, where he had been baptized in 1991.

“He kept to himself, and he was very humble,” said stepfather Randell Drummond during a break in the trial. “He was very respectful of his elders.”

At Sims’ funeral in January, the Rev. John Reid III of Woodbridge encouraged the audience to resist violence. He preached about the importance of redemption, imploring the men and women in the audience to work for change to the troubled neighborhood. He said that violence is ripping apart the city’s African-American community, and he encouraged the rising generation to invoke Sims’ memory by working for change.

“I was with Martin Luther King when we were praying in the church and the Ku Klux Klan came by and tried to harm us — and I’ve still got the scars on my head to prove it,” Reid said. “Today, we don’t need the Ku Klux Klan anymore because we are doing it to ourselves.”