The last moments in the life of Kareem Timmons were brutal, as he cowered while being kicked in the head with a size 11 Nike — blood gushing out of his mouth, nose and eyes onto the floor of the probation office lobby on South Washington Street. In court on Monday, a steady stream of forensic experts identified Derrick Wright as the murderer. Wright’s fingerprints, DNA samples and bloody shoe impressions placed him unmistakably at the scene of the Jan. 9 crime. On the stand, Wright admitted that he had kicked his friend in the head about seven or eight times. But he said that Timmons started the dispute by parking illegally in a loading zone then initiating a physical confrontation.
"I asked him what was taking so long because we were in a loading zone, and then he shoved my chest," Wright explained on the witness stand. "We almost immediately started fighting."
Breaking down in tears several times during his testimony on Monday, Wright said that the fight was mutual — with both participants throwing punches. He said that he didn’t intend to kill his friend, and that he walked away from the scene not realizing the severity of what had happened. Yet his testimony differed with an eyewitness to the crime who saw Timmons unresponsive on the floor of the lobby as Wright repeatedly kicked his head. Wright testified that he received a head injury and a cracked jaw during the scuffle, which he blamed Timmons for initiating. Yet when a prosecutor asked Wright for evidence that he had been injured, the defendant admitted that he had never asked for medical attention.
"I wasn’t too concerned about my head injury," Wright told the judge. "I had just killed a friend of mine."
At the conclusion of a one-day trial, Circuit Court Judge John Kloch said that the evidence in the case indicated that Wright was guilty of second-degree murder, then asked each side to explain if they thought the sentence should be increased or decreased. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Krista Boucher argued that Wright should receive a sentence of first-degree murder, pointing out the viciousness of the beating, the number of blows and sheer brutality of the murder. Defense attorney Denise Tassi argued that the judge should hand down a sentence of manslaughter, taking into account the heat of passion that prompted the crime according to his own testimony.
"This was very malicious but not premeditated," Klotch ruled at the conclusion of the trial. "Therefore, Mr. Wright, I find you guilty of murder in the second degree."
THE JANUARY MURDER happened unexpectedly, shocking family and friends of Timmons and Wright — two longtime friends who had just launched a glass-installation business. According to interviews with those who knew them, court documents and testimony, the two men had troubled backgrounds but were trying to make a new start by launching a business the two hoped would earn a decent living. The venture offered a new hope for the partners, and the fateful stop at the probation office that January morning was a crucial step in making the business successful by landing a job near Fort Belvior.
"The most tragic thing about this is that they were really trying to make this work," said Lillian McFarland, an ex-girlfriend of Timmons, during a break in the trial. "They really wanted that job in Fort Belvior."
Timmons was a tough-talking New Yorker and avid Redskins fan whose mother said he never fully recovered from his father’s death. She said that’s why he fell in with what she called the "wrong crowd," a group including Wright that became close to Timmons in the difficult years following his father’s death. His adult criminal record begins in 1997, when he was found guilty of stealing a car. That was just the beginning of a lengthy rap sheet — one that included everything from receiving stolen property and selling crack to probation violations and failure to appear in court.
"He had a criminal background," admitted Shona Timmons, his mother, during a January interview. "But it’s not like he was a criminal."
Wright’s relatives told a different story than the victim’s mother — describing Wright as a father figure to Kareen Timmons. Arvita Wright, Derrick Wright’s sister, said that her mother helped raise Kareem when his mother was not around. Since the day they met each other near the Nannie Lee Center 10 years ago, the two formed a close bond that included smoking "dippers" — cigarettes laced with PCP.
"I call in the devil’s drug," said Arvita Wright in a January interview. "It was Derrick’s only downfall."
COURT RECORDS show that Derrick Wright had a troubled childhood, one in which he suffered from persistent neglect and a lack of stability. A native of Alexandria, Wright was bounced from home to home as a child, living with his grandparents, then his mother — whose boyfriend physically abused him when he was between the ages of 16 to 18, according to court records. Ultimately, Wright was handed over to the Department of Social Services before embarking on a life of street crime. His criminal record shows a number of other charges, everything from trespass and grand-theft auto to driving with a revoked license.
Records show that Wright was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1998 and prescribed the psychotropic drug Zyprex, but family members say that he refused to take the medication because it made him sluggish. When he was interviewed by investigators shortly after the murder, Wright told Alexandria police detectives that voices in his head told him to commit the crime — an admission he downplayed on Monday, insisting that he only told investigators about voices in his head so they would tell them why he was being detained. On the stand, Wright said Timmons initiated the fight by shoving his chest — and that he left the probation office that morning without realizing the extent of what had happened.
"He was not looking good, and his face was swollen," said Wright. "I didn’t see blood coming from his mouth."
BUT WRIGHT’S VERSION of events did not persuade Judge Kloch, who concluded that "little is factual in his testimony." The bloody crime scene photographs prompted audible gasps in the courtroom, showing a massive pool of blood and a lifeless corpse whose face had been beaten beyond recognition. Kloch said that, as is often the case in these kinds of crimes, nobody knows what really happened other than the two individuals directly involved — one of whom is dead. So the court was left with a situation that seemed to defy reason.
"We have no motive," the judge said.
Wright’s waiver for his right to a jury trial significantly speeded along the proceedings, with most of the day’s testimony coming from forensic experts explaining how they could determine a shoe print on Timmons’ forehead came from Wright’s shoe. A bank clerk who worked next door testified that the commotion from the fight moved the lockers in CitiBank’s breakroom three to four inches from the wall that Wright used to steady himself while kicking Timmons in the head. Ultimately, the coroner testified, Timmons died from blunt trauma to the head, including lacerations, abrasions, bruises and ultimately a series of fatal hemorrhages.
"It took about two and a half minutes," Wright testified through tears. "I thought it was just a fight. I didn’t know he was going to die."