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A Dangerous Friendship

Friends and relatives recall the victim of a homicide and the suspect who was arrested.

The last time that Shona Timmons saw her son on New Year’s Eve, they had an everyday conversation about their plans for the holiday. The small talk would be their last conversation, an unexpectedly important moment in their lives — days before Kareem Timmons, 29, was murdered in the lobby of the state probation office on South Washington Street. One of his closest friends, Derrick Wright, 27, allegedly jumped Timmons as he walked out of an elevator in the lobby on Jan. 9. Timmons said that Wright kicked her son in the head so many times that she found herself unable to look at her son’s corpse.

“Kareem was beaten so badly that we couldn’t have an open casket at the funeral,” said Timmons as she fought back tears recalling her son’s violent last moments. “I couldn’t look. I couldn’t bring myself to look.”

The attack shut down traffic on Washington Street for several hours as members of the Alexandria Police Department investigated the scene. Two crime-scene technicians worked the lobby of the probation office as 15 detectives fanned out looking for security camera footage of the area or eyewitnesses. They spent hours photographing the crime scene, diagramming the position of the corpse, taking blood samples and dusting for fingerprints. Within hours, police announced that they had arrested Wright in connection with the murder.

“They were reared by the same woman,” said Police Chief David Baker at a meeting of the Old Town Civic Association a few days later. “They had been friends since childhood.”

But Shona Timmons disagreed, calling the chief’s remarks “a bunch of crap.” She said that police officials who portrayed the victim and suspect as lifelong friends were speaking on a subject they knew very little about — misleading the public into a sense that Timmons and Wright had a lifelong relationship when she said they had known each other for the last 10 years.

A NATIVE OF NEW YORK, Kareem Timmons was scarred as a 13-year-old by the death of his father — a slow and painful decline in which he nursed his father as he succumbed to liver failure. After the father’s death, according to the mother, the son never fully recovered. Even after moving to Alexandria and being mentored by Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs in the Youth for Tomorrow program — a residential group home for at-risk teenagers — Timmons fell into a life of street crime.

“He was never able to grieve properly after his father died,” she said. “He was supposed to go to college, but he lost all motivation. Then he fell in with the wrong crowd.”

She described Wright as part of the “wrong crowd,” who became close to her son during the difficult years following the death of his father. Court records show that Timmons’ adult criminal record began in 1997 when he was found guilty of stealing a car. That was just the beginning of his lengthy rap sheet — a record that includes everything from receiving stolen property and selling crack to probation violations and failure to appear in court.

“He had a criminal background,” said his mother. “But it’s not like he was a murderer.”

Yet Timmons had another side. According to Lillian McFarland, who dated Timmons in the summer before his death, he was a talented individual who was good at braiding hair and working with children. In a recent conversation about Timmons death, she recalled how he became involved with her son’s football team by volunteering with the city’s recreation department.

“He knew how to talk to children,” said McFarland. “He extremely talented, and I thought he could do almost anything.”

McFarland said that she could see a transformation in Timmons in the time they were dating — he stopped dealing drugs and got a job installing glass for Metropolitan Glass Company with Wright. She and Timmons would picnic on George Washington Parkway, play endless rounds of a card game called “Tunk” and chat with each other late into the evening about their lives. She still recalls the last church service he attended with her at Macedonia Baptist Church in Arlington — a service in which the sermon dealt with making the best of a bad situation.

“To me, he was like a big kid,” she said. “I guess that’s why he was so good at coaching football and things like that.”

WRIGHT’S RELATIVES tell a different story than the victim’s mother — one in which Wright acted as a father figure to Kareem Timmons. Arvita Wright, Derrick Wright’s sister, said that her mother helped raise Kareem when his mother was not around. Since they met each other near the Nannie Lee Center 10 years ago, the two had formed a close relationship that included working for the same company and smoking “dippers” — cigarettes laced with PCP.

“I call it the devil’s drug,” said Arvita Wright. “It was Derrick’s only downfall.”

She said that the two would remain sober while installing glass, then abuse the illegal drug on a daily basis. Unfortunately, she said, taking PCP may have triggered a reaction in her brother that prompted his violent outburst on Jan. 9. Court records show that Derrick Wright was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1998 and prescribed the psychotropic drug Zyprex. But Arvita Wright said that her brother refused to take the medication because it made him sluggish, substituting illegal drugs in place of the prescription medication.

“I don’t think he understood what was happening to him,” she said. “But he kept telling me that he had everything under control.”

Derrick Wright’s criminal record shows a number of charges, everything from trespass to grand-theft auto to driving with a revoked license. But Arvita Wright said that in recent months her brother had abandoned his past as a drug dealer and taken a serious interest in fostering his career as a glazier.

“Glass was his hobby,” she said. “He was obsessed with it.”

ON THE DAY of the homicide, according to friends and family members, Kareem Timmons and Derrick Wright drove to the probation office together in the company van. Timmons needed a document from the office to get an official state-issued identification card so the two could get a federal contract installing glass on a nearby military base.

“They were trying to make something out of themselves,” said Arvita Wright. “And this job was important to them.”

Timmons got in the elevator and headed for the probation office. Wright waited in the lobby. But in the few minutes while he waited downstairs, Wright’s demeanor changed. By the time Timmons stepped out of the elevator, Wright was enraged and violently attacked his friend.

“The police tell me that Derrick was hearing voices,” said Shona Timmons. “But I don’t believe that.”

IN THE WAKE, of her son’s death, Shona Timmons decided to visit the scene of the murder — the lobby of the state probation office at 105 South Washington St. She said it was ironic that he was going to the office that day in order to pick up paperwork as part of a plan to keep a steady job and rise up out of the lingering problems he had suffered since his father’s death.

In the lobby where her son was violently beaten, she was surprised to find a sign reading “this area monitored by video camera.” If this was true, she wants to know, why did no one see her son being violently beaten as he exited the elevator?

“This area is monitored by video but nobody saw my son being beaten to death?” she asked as she wiped tears from her eyes. “I don’t understand why someone didn’t see what was going on and help him.”

In a brief court appearance last month, Judge Becky Moore scheduled a competency hearing for Wright in February.

“It’ll be up to the court to determine if he is able to stand trial,” said Frank Aschmann, a court-appointed lawyer who is representing Wright. “The next step for the court is to determine if Mr. Wright has the ability to determine right from wrong.”