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DC teenager arrested in fatal shooting of wheelchair man

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A 15-year-old Northeast Washington youth was arrested and charged on Tuesday with fatally shot a 19-year-old man who was paralyzed and sitting in a wheelchair outside his northeastern Washington home earlier this year, police said.

The arrest of the teenager partially ends months of debate between prosecutors at the DC Attorney General’s office and police, who wanted to see the teen charged with the murder much sooner, according to three the police knowing the case well. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

Officials said the teenager, who is expected to appear in court on Wednesday, is also the prime suspect for police in another fatal shooting in northeastern Washington four days later, although prosecutors pushed them find more evidence in this case. Police had feared that if the teenager remained on the streets he could commit more crimes or become the target of retaliation, officials said.

The teenager – who awaits sentencing later this month in a separate case — is charged with murder in the murder of Devin Brewer. Authorities said Brewer was sitting in a wheelchair outside his home with friends just before 8 p.m. January 18 when a car passes slowly and the driver opens fire. A bullet hit Brewer in the head. Two of his friends were also shot but survived.

The Washington Post generally does not identify minors accused of crimes unless they are charged in adult court.

Police suspected the teenager in Brewer’s murder dates back to in late February and asked prosecutors from DC Attorney General Karl A. Racine’s office to sign a warrant for the teen charged with murder, police say documents obtained by The Post and interviews with three law enforcement officials familiar with the case. But at that time, prosecutors refused, telling police they needed more evidence. Two law enforcement officials familiar with the case said investigators were recently able to recover new evidence from the youngster’s mobile phone which links the teenager to Brewer’s murder, and prosecutors signed the warrant on Wednesday.

Last month, the Washington Post began reporting on tension between DC police and prosecutors in Racine’s office over the strength of the evidence in Brewer’s murder and the murder four days later of Timothy Stewart, 38. The Post had first attempted to contact the attorney general’s office about the case on June 29 and interviewed Racine on July 1.

City officials, including Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), have long criticized Racine as being too lenient towards minors accused of violent offences. During the July 1 interview, Racine declined to comment on the particular investigations, but said that in general, its prosecutors would charge minors in criminal cases as long as the evidence was strong.

“We work closely with MPD to put together files. However, the prosecutor must be satisfied that there is a preponderance of the evidence to charge the case and that to prosecute, prosecutors can meet the standard beyond a reasonable doubt,” Racine said. “We don’t move forward in cases where we can’t meet those standards.”

Reached by phone, the teenager’s public defender, Taylor Dodson, declined to comment.

Police believe Brewer and Stewart were shot because they lived in a northeast Washington neighborhood where gang members had engaged in a spate of gunfights and reprisals, according to three law enforcement officials familiar with their cases. Stewart was shot in a drive-by while on his way to a Northeast store to play his grandmother’s lottery numbers, as he did every day, according to police documents and an official law enforcement aware of the case. No one has been charged in this murder.

In both homicides, police admitted that their evidence was largely circumstantial: They lacked eyewitness or DNA evidence, law enforcement officials said.

According to two law enforcement officials, the teenager bragged about killing Brewer to one of his friends, and the police found a Instagram post in which he said that he had “made the news” and referred to a media account of Brewer’s shooting. But the teenager’s friend, who cooperated with the police, had been charged alongside him in an armed robbery and could face significant questions about his credibility, those law enforcement officials acknowledged.

Surveillance video captured a Burgundy Toyota Highlander used in Brewer’s murder. Police believe the vehicle was one the teenager had previously hijacked and tried to sell on Instagram, before it was set on fire afterwards the homicide, law enforcement officials said.

In Stewart’s murder, according to a law enforcement official and a police document, a A GPS tracker was placed on another of the vehicles. Police say the teenager was involved in a carjacking. He showed the car to a house where the teenager was staying, then to the scene of Stewart’s murder around the time it happened, then back to the house, according to law enforcement officer and document.

However, when police stopped the car following another theft, another person was driving, possibly complicating efforts to link her to the teen, the document said. That driver told investigators he had picked up the teenager’s vehicle, according to a document from police and one of the law enforcement officials. This person was charged with robbery.

Two law enforcement officials familiar with the case said officers recovered clothing the teen was said to have been wearing from a home he was using, along with a .45 caliber weapon that police linked to the Stewart shooting. The teenager, law enforcement officials said, had previously posted photos of himself on Instagram holding such a weapon and wearing the clothes.

But neither police nor prosecutors ordered the gun to be tested for DNA to compare it to the teenager’s, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the case, who blamed to the attorney general’s office for not testing the weapon. The attorney general’s office declined to comment on the claim, but said police can submit firearms for DNA testing on their own. A police department spokesperson said that when a suspect is already charged in a separate case, the attorney general’s office must approve a match using their DNA.

The delay to bring charges against someone for the murder of his son left Timothy Wiggins, Stewart’s father, discouraged.

“They know who did this. That’s it,” Wiggins said. “The DA’s office gives different accounts and different stories about why they didn’t process the warrant.”

It is not uncommon for authorities to lay charges in one case while continuing to investigate another.

Prosecutors relied on information from the teenager’s associates and Instagram posts to charge him in June with 14 offenses unrelated to the murders, including armed carjacking, armed robbery and receiving stolen property, officials said. Weeks later, the teenager pleaded guilty to less serious charges, including robbery, assault with a dangerous weapon and carrying a gun without a license, according to records reviewed by The Washington Post. The teenager, who had been released at his mother’s home under electronic surveillance, is due to be sentenced on July 28.

But in these cases, prosecutors had security video footage of the teenager inside several of the vehicles that were allegedly hijacked, according to two law enforcement officials and police documents.

In DC, Racine’s office is usually handles cases involving defendants ages 17 and under, while federal prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office handle those involving adults or juvenile defendants of adults. Typically, if local prosecutors determine that a youth accused of a crime cannot be rehabilitated until age 21, the office can ask a judge to transfer the case to the U.S. Attorney’s office and to court for adults. A minor charged as a minor can only stay in the system until they are 21 years old. Those accused of being minors must be tried within 45 days of arrest, according to DC law. it means the police and prosecutors must have their strongest evidence available when making an arrest.

Law enforcement officials have said they believe the teenager was motivated in the Brewer case out of revenge, though he was blind in choosing a target.

A friend of the teenager told police the youngster was close to 18-year-old D’Maree Miller, who was killed in early January, according to police documents and law enforcement officials. According to the friend’s account, two of the law enforcement officials said the teenager believed someone who lived in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood was responsible for Miller’s death, so he took one of the vehicles he and his friends previously hijacked and went there alone on January 18, looking for someone – anyone – kill.

Daneen Wright, Brewer’s mother, said around 7:30 p.m. she heard Brewer’s friends drag Brewer out so he could get some fresh air. Within 10 minutes, Wright recalls, she heard gunshots.

Seconds later, Brewer’s friends ran into the house. Wright said she ran to the back and saw her son on the ground “like he tried to jump out of his chair and run, but couldn’t.” Wright picked him up and brought his lifeless body home.

“I had to run there to pick up my son and see my son like this,” she said. “My husband cleaned up the blood. It was devastating for my family.

Neither Brewer, who had been paralyzed from a previous shooting, nor his injured friends were connected to Miller’s murder. In March, an 18-year-old from southeast Washington was charged with Miller’s murder.

Wright said police told him in February they thought they identified her son’s killer but prosecutors refused to sign an arrest warrant due to lack of evidence. She said he contacted the attorney general and requested a meeting – fearing that whoever shot his son could also target other members of his family.

“I feel relieved,” Wright, the pastor of Saving Souls Deliverance Church, said when news broke of his son’s murder arrest. “God answers prayers. I now feel like justice has been done.

Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.