A D.C. Superior Court jury Tuesday found a District man guilty of first-degree murder while armed in the December 2009 shooting death of gay D.C. resident Anthony Perkins, whom police say met his killer through a gay telephone chat line.
The jury returned its verdict after deliberating for a little more than five hours following a five-day trial in which prosecutors said Antwan Holcomb, 21, shot Perkins in the head in Perkins’ car after luring him to a secluded street in Southeast Washington.
A witness who knew Holcomb testified that he overheard Holcomb say on the night of the murder that he “shot the ‘faggy’ in the head and robbed him of a pack of Newport cigarettes” before leaving Perkins’ Lincoln Town Car and fleeing the scene on foot.
“The price that the defendant put on the head of Mr. Perkins was a pack of cigarettes,” Assistant United States Attorney Steven Swaney, one of two prosecutors in the case, told the jury on Tuesday.
Chief Judge Lee Satterfield, who presided over the trial, scheduled Holcomb’s sentencing for May 5.
Perkins, 29, lived with his mother, Stella Perkins, who testified at the trial that her son’s murder was a devastating loss. He worked as a dispatcher for an air conditioning and heating company and enjoyed meeting people on phone chat lines, witnesses said during the trial.
Swaney and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Liebman presented law enforcement witnesses who pointed to phone records showing that Holcomb made repeated calls to a phone chat line called D.C. Raven. The chat line has separate lines for a variety of groups and interests, including a section with “gay chat numbers.”
Government witnesses testified that Holcomb met Perkins on the chat line on the night of Dec. 26, 2009 and engaged him in several conversations. The two exchanged their own phone numbers, the prosecutors said. Authorities later tracked the calls Holcomb made to Perkins on the night of the murder from a landline in a residence at 500 Lebaum St., S.E., where he had been staying.
“He stated that he posed as a homosexual in an attempt to lure a victim to his location for the purpose of robbing him,” according to a police affidavit used for Holcomb’s arrest in March 2010.
At the trial, prosecutors showed the jury a video of Holcomb being questioned by homicide detectives. Holcomb admitted to detectives that he talked to Perkins through the chat line and persuaded him to meet him on the night of the murder. But he denied he killed Perkins. Holcomb told the detectives in the taped interrogation that it was someone else who looked like him that entered Perkins’ car and shot Perkins. Police said Holcomb refused to identify that person.
The two prosecutors argued during the trial Holcomb fabricated that claim to get off the hook in the murder.
In the video recording of the interrogation session presented to the jury, one of the detectives joked with Holcomb about his decision to call a gay-oriented chat line. At one point, Holcomb said men using the chat line have money and likely would not report being robbed from someone they met through such a venue.
“I’m not of that nature … I’m a cold-blooded man,” he told the detectives. “I don’t like fags. I never will.”
At the time of Holcomb’s arraignment following his arrest in March 2010, Liebman told the Blade the U.S. Attorney’s office might consider asking a grand jury to classify the case as a hate crime. A subsequent grand jury indictment against Holcomb did not classify the case as a hate crime.
At the time the jury rendered its verdict Tuesday, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office said Liebman and Swaney would not be immediately available to discuss the case.
Defense attorney Ronald Horton argued that there were no eye witnesses to the murder. He said one of the government’s lead witnesses, who said she saw Holcomb near the scene of the murder, was drunk at the time.
Horton said another key witness, a woman who once dated Horton, was biased against him because she caught him in bed with another woman. She should not be taken at her word for testifying that Holcomb entered her bedroom and placed a gun under the bed shortly after the murder took place, he told the jury.
He noted that Holcomb’s finger prints and DNA were not found inside Perkins’ car, supporting Holcomb’s claim that it was someone else that entered Perkins’ Lincoln Town Car and shot him point blank in the head.
Saying the jury was obligated under the law not to find Holcomb guilty unless the government proves its case beyond a reasonable doubt, told the jury, “This case is full of reasonable doubt.”
In his rebuttal arguments, co-prosecutor Swaney recited a litany of evidence he said provided proof beyond a doubt that Holcomb committed the murder.
Among other things, he pointed to Holcomb’s arrest for an unrelated incident on Dec. 12, in which he was charged with shooting two men outside the Player’s Lounge, a popular Southeast D.C. nightclub that has hosted events organized by gay activists.
Swaney pointed to police and firearm experts’ testimony that the bullet removed from Perkins’ head had been fired from the same gun that Holcomb allegedly used to shoot the two men outside the Player’s Lounge, one of whom is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the gunshot wound.
Several letters that Holcomb wrote to a female friend while in jail following his arrest asked the friend to arrange for others to tell police that they saw someone other than Holcomb enter Perkins’ car on the night of the murder, Swaney noted to the jury. He called this a clear attempt by Holcomb to get people to help him conceal his involvement in a murder.
In addition to the first-degree murder charge, the jury found Holcomb guilty of armed robbery, unlawful possession of a firearm, and carrying a pistol without a license.
The D.C. group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence has raised concern over reports of gay men being targeted by criminals on telephone and Internet chat lines.
A widely reported case came four months after Perkins’ murder, when Montgomery County police disclosed that gay D.C. middle school principal Brian Betts, who was found murdered in his Silver Spring, Md., home last April, met one or more of the four teenage males charged in the case through an Internet sex chat line.