When residents of the Fields Apartments on South Whiting Street saw a dark blue Camry idling in the parking lot with its lights on at midnight, nobody thought much of it. But when the car was still idling after 3 a.m. the next morning, some neighbors became curious. They approached the vehicle and made a gruesome discovery — a bloody crime scene in which Mustafa Aburanat, 41 had been shot at close range in the right side of his head. His wallet rested in his lifeless hand as Camry’s motor continued to hum into the early morning hours.
Evidence collected at the scene included a bullet from the right side of Aburanat’s head that matched a shell casing found on the passenger’s side floorboard. The forensic evidence led Alexandria detectives through a series of discoveries as they dug through employment records, cell phone recordings and pawnshop receipts. Along the way, according to court records, detectives discovered that Aburanat was a rookie cab driver for the Paramount Cab Co. His vehicle, cab 190, was videotaped by the Metro security cameras leaving the Suitland Metro station on March 21 shortly before Aburanat was found dead. And it showed a man and a woman in the cab with him.
“I missed the last bus,” said Chiquita Jackson, adding that she and Christopher Martin, 22, decided to split the cost of a cab ride. “I needed a ride home.”
In testimony before the Alexandria Circuit Court, Jackson testified that she met Martin over a cigarette at the Anacostia Metro station. They rode the green-line train together to Suitland, where they decided to split the cost of a cab ride to her house. To cover the $8 cab fare, she testified, she paid $5 and he paid $3. He asked to come into her home, but she refused. Then Paramount Cab No. 190 drove into the night — the last time that Aburanat was ever seen alive.
“He took the defendant home in his personal car,” said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Elliott Casey in the prosecution’s opening statement. “The shell casings found in the car later matched the defendant’s gun.”
But defense attorney Tom Cullen argued that prosecutors had a weak case, one that lacked DNA evidence or fingerprints. Cullen asked jurors to consider a lack of other evidence presented by the commonwealth’s attorney. He said that no evidence existed to place Martin in Alexandria during the night of the murder, and that justice demands that jurors ask difficult questions about whether prosecutor’s evidence warranted a conviction.
“The facts are sad,” Cullen told jurors. “But there is no evidence that put my client in Virgina when this crime was committed.”
COURT RECORDS show that after the murder, Alexandria detectives were closely examining the videotape evidence from the Suitland Metro station. Then they received a major break when Martin appeared in their midst to report a robbery. Records show that members of the city’s Criminal Investigations Sections recognized his necklace from the Suitland footage even as he was trying to have another man arrested.
“Would I still be able to press charges?” Martin asked Alexandria homicide detective Tom Durkin, according to the transcript.
“Yes,” Durkin responded.
“Then why am I being detained?” Martin asked.
“You’re going to be charged with homicide,” Durkin responded.
Since that moment, the commonwealth began building a case against Martin, a 2003 graduate of T.C. Williams High School. Prosecutors have fixed their case on forensic evidence indicating that the bullet retrieved from Aburanat’s head matched the gun found at Martin’s house. They alleged that the discovery of the murder weapon in a locked box, to which Marin held the key, was proof that he was the murderer.
“On March 20 of this year, the defendant killed Mustafa Aburanat,” Casey said. “He took whatever money that Mustafa had, and then he took off.”
But Cullen said that the commonwealth had little evidence other than the murder weapon. He said that jurors should consider the lack of evidence presented by prosecutors.
“My clients fingerprints were not found in the car,” Cullen said. “But there were fingerprints found in the car.”
AT PRESS TIME, the trial had yet to conclude. More evidence could emerge in the case, and other theories could be presented to Circuit Court Judge Donald Haddock. Unless that happens, prosecutors will be stuck without fingerprints or DNA evidence. And the defense attorney will have to explain the presence of the murder weapon in Martin’s possession.
“Not guilty,” Martin pleaded in a soft voice as the trial began Tuesday morning.
According to the underlying structure of American justice, jurors will be bound to consider Martin innocent until prosecutors provide his guilt.