Teen pleads guilty to murder of gay principal
A 19-year-old D.C. man pleaded guilty Monday to first-degree felony murder in connection with the April 14 shooting death of gay D.C. middle school principal Brian Betts.
Alante Saunders, one of four teenagers charged in Betts’ murder, agreed to a plea bargain agreement offered by prosecutors that is expected to result in a sentence reduced from life in prison to 40 years. The plea took place during a hearing before a Montgomery County Circuit court judge in Rockville.
Betts was found shot to death April 15 in his Silver Spring, Md. house.
Montgomery County Assistant State’s Attorney Sherri Koch told Judge John Debelius in a hearing that evidence shows that Saunders shot Betts to death in the second floor bedroom of his house after meeting the popular middle school principal through an Internet chat line.
Sources familiar with the case have said the chat line where the two met caters to gay men seeking to meet other men for sex.
In details of the case that had not previously been disclosed, Koch told the court that Betts told Saunders that the door to his house would be unlocked and instructed him to enter and walk upstairs to his bedroom upon his arrival.
Police and prosecutors have said Saunders and three other men, one 19 and two 18, hatched a plan to meet someone on the chat line for the purpose of committing a robbery. Saunders’ lawyer, David Felsen, and Koch agreed that Saunders and the others charged in the case did not intend to kill Betts.
“This was, for want of a better word, a robbery that went bad,” said Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy at a news conference following the guilty plea.
“This case should serve as a reminder to all those in the community who use chat lines that there are dangers,” he said at the news conference.
Neither McCarthy nor Koch, in her courtroom remarks, mentioned that Betts was gay or that the youths charged with his murder met him through a gay sex chat line.
Court observers believe the State’s Attorney’s office is negotiating with attorneys representing the other defendants over possible plea bargain agreements that would avoid the need for a trial. The others charged in the case are Joel Johnson, 19; Sharif Tau Lancaster and Deontra Gray, both 18. Each is charged with murder, even though authorities believe they may not have been in Betts’ house at the time of the shooting.
Police have said some or all of the other three men entered the house at some point after the shooting to help Saunders steal Betts’ belongings, including credit cards and his car.
Saunders is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 23.
LOU CHIBBARO JR.
Md. attorney gen’l: No marriage bill in 2011
Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler told a gay business group this week that he doesn’t expect lawmakers to pass a same-sex marriage bill next year.
“We won’t get marriage equality in the legislative session this year,” Gansler told the Maryland Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. “It will happen through the courts.” He cited a coalition of Republicans, Catholics and certain older black lawmakers who oppose same-sex marriage as the reason for the lack of movement.
A marriage bill is among Equality Maryland’s top legislative priorities and hopes for progress were high after three gay and lesbian candidates joined four openly gay incumbents in winning last week’s elections. Maryland now has seven openly gay and lesbian state lawmakers.
“Attorney General Gansler stated that a marriage equality bill is unlikely to advance in the General Assembly due to lack of support from certain constituencies,” said Charles Butler, Equality Maryland’s board chair, in a statement to the Blade. “We appreciate the AG’s unequivocal support for marriage equality, but respectfully disagree with him on his recent statement. Maryland voters just embraced two important pro-marriage candidates in re-electing Gov. O’Malley and the AG. … With this kind of support for equality, we believe the Legislature will do the right thing, honor the trust that the electorate has placed in its members, and enact marriage equality legislation during the upcoming session.”
Gay bar Mova files for bankruptcy in Florida
The owner of the D.C. gay bar Mova filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Oct. 20 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Miami, Fla., according to court documents.
Mova owner Babak Movahedi filed the bankruptcy documents through Logan Circle Spectrum, LLC, the company that owns Mova bars in both Washington and Miami Beach. Movahedi is the sole shareholder of the company, according to bankruptcy documents.
Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows companies unable to pay creditors to reorganize and make arrangements to pay off the debt over an extended time period without going out of business. Movahedi has said he intends to keep his Mova bars open.
The bankruptcy filing shows that Logan Circle Spectrum, which is headquartered in South Miami Beach, has liabilities totaling $874,817 and assets totaling $72,507. The largest single creditor is PNC Bank, which is owed more than $560,000, according to the filing.
Gay D.C. businessman and drag performer David Lett and Lett’s company, Harlet Enterprises, Inc., holds the primary lease to the building in which Mova D.C. is located at 1435 P St., N.W. The bankruptcy filing records show that Mova owes Harlet, Mova’s landlord, $77,745.
It says the money owed to Lett and Harlet Enterprises is for “leases, permits, agreements, personal property, furniture, fixtures, equipment and all other assets located in or upon the premise or used in connection with the business conducted in the premises.”
LOU CHIBBARO JR.
LGBT program at Univ. of Md. wins award
The University of Maryland’s One Project won the 2010 National Orientation Directors Association’s Innovative Program Award.
The One Project is the First-Year Experience program for LGBT and ally students at the university developed by Dian Squire, assistant director of orientation. It is a joint effort by the Office of LGBT Equity (lgbt.umd.edu) and the Orientation Office (orientation.umd.edu).
“We’re just really looking to connect students to other students … and the community at large,” Squire said.
The award gives the program a professional stamp of approval because it comes from an association that specializes in these types of programs, he said.
“The criteria for the award is, one, it’s innovative, and two, that the NODA board sees that the program can be taken and used anywhere in the nation,” Squire said.
The program is meant to help students make a smooth transition to college and “represents a hope that the LGBTQA community can come together in an intellectual, social and civically minded way to support each other through the first year of college.”
“I went to Luke Jensen [director of the Office of LGBT Equity] and asked if there was something I could do,” Squire said as to why he developed the One Project. “He said ‘Why don’t we start a first year program?’ and I took that small seed and ran with it.”
The award will be presented at the association’s annual conference, Nov. 6-9 in St. Louis.
For more information on the One Project or NODA, visit their respective websites, theoneprojectumd.com and nodaweb.org.