August 27, 2014 at 4:20 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
D.C. man sentenced to 9 years for murder of former roommate
Marine Barracks, gay news, Washington Blade, murder

A D.C. Superior Court judge has rejected a request for a new trial for a man convicted of fatally stabbing a fellow Marine outside the Marine Barracks in Southeast D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on July 11 sentenced a 22-year-old D.C. man to nine years in prison for the February 2013 stabbing death of his 72-year-old former roommate who police said had regularly paid him for sex over a period of several years.

The little-noticed sentencing came after David Jamal Wilson pleaded guilty in exchange for an agreement by prosecutors to lower the charge against him from second-degree murder while armed to voluntary manslaughter.

In an unrelated case, a Superior Court judge also on July 11 scheduled a sentencing date of September 4 for former U.S. Marine Michael Poth, 22, who was convicted last December of manslaughter for the April 2012 stabbing death of fellow Marine Phillip Bushong, 23.

Prosecutors said the stabbing followed an argument between the two Marines after Poth allegedly called Bushong a “faggot” while Bushong was standing outside a bar talking to a gay friend.

Police initially accused Wilson of stabbing Howard Venable, Jr., multiple times in the doorway to the bedroom of his apartment at the Mozart Apartments at 1630 Fuller St., N.W., on Feb. 2, 2013.

But in court papers filed May 7 of this year, at the time Wilson pleaded guilty to the reduced charge, prosecutors disclosed that one or both of two suspects that accompanied Wilson to Venable’s apartment on the night of the murder robbed and fatally stabbed Venable rather than Wilson.

A “Proffer of Facts” document filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office states that “two persons whose identities are known to the defendant and the government” arrived at Venable’s apartment with Wilson shortly after midnight on Feb. 1, 2013.

“During the course of the robbery, Suspect 1 or Suspect 2, in the defendant’s presence, stabbed Mr. Venable, inflicting injuries from which he died,” the proffer document says.

William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, told the Blade this week that no one else has been arrested in connection with Venable’s murder and that the investigation remains open.

He declined further comment on why no further arrests have been made given that authorities know the identities of the other two people who allegedly committed the murder.

A police arrest affidavit says a surveillance video camera captured Wilson using at least two credit or debit cards belonging to Venable to withdraw cash through an ATM at a gas station in District Heights, Md., on the night of the murder. The affidavit says homicide detectives identified Wilson as a suspect in the case from information provided by people who knew Venable and said Wilson had lived with Venable “from time to time” in recent years.

A D.C. police homicide detective testified at a Feb. 20, 2013 court hearing that the murder took place a few days after Wilson moved out of the apartment and on the same day Wilson and Venable exchanged text messages arranging for Wilson to return to the apartment to engage in sex with Venable.

Det. King Watts told the court hearing that the two men had a longstanding arrangement in which Venable paid Wilson for sex every two weeks. At the same hearing, Wilson’s court-appointed attorney, Jacqueline Cadman, startled court observers by describing the sexual relationship between the two men as “abusive” and claiming it began when Wilson was a “child.”

Cadman introduced a motion calling for the charge against Wilson to be lowered to manslaughter because of the alleged abuse by Venable. Judge Stuart Nash, who presided over the case at that time, denied the motion.

Court records show that Wilson’s wife filed papers in July 2011 seeking a civil protection order against him after he allegedly assaulted her in the apartment where the two lived with their two children. At the Feb. 20, 2013 court hearing, Cadman said Wilson’s wife was in the courtroom to show her support for him and she favored a defense motion to release Wilson on bond.

Judge Nash denied the motion and ordered Wilson to remain in custody while awaiting trial.

Cadman, who works for the Public Defender Service, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment this week.

At the sentencing this year on July 11, Judge Jennifer M. Anderson also sentenced Wilson to five years of supervised release upon completion of the nine-year jail term.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Holly Shick, the lead prosecutor in the case, proposed that Wilson be given a nine-year jail term in a memorandum to the judge. Shick noted that Wilson would most likely be credited with the 18 months he had already served in jail since the time of his arrest. She noted that if he exhibits good behavior while in jail Wilson would be eligible for release after serving a total of just over seven and a half years minus the 18 months already served.

Dale Edwin Sanders, a Washington attorney who practices criminal law in D.C. and Virginia, said under D.C.’s criminal statutes a person who participates in a robbery in which a murder occurs is legally responsible for the murder, even if he or she doesn’t physically commit the murder.

“Although the defendant does not blame his actions on his relationship with Mr. Venable, the defendant acknowledges that he, Suspect 1 and Suspect 2 made a conscious decision to rob Mr. Venable for not reason other than the fact that they just needed money,” Shick said in her sentencing memo.

“While Mr. Venable may have had shortcomings, he did not deserve to die for this reason or in this way,” she said.

Marine case set for sentencing on Sept. 4

On the day he scheduled sentencing for Poth, Superior Court Judge Russell Canan denied a motion by Poth’s attorney that called for a new trial following Poth’s conviction last December by a jury of voluntary manslaughter.

Poth’s defense team based the request for a new trial on the grounds that two of the jurors that handed down the conviction failed to disclose a prior arrest record as required of all potential jurors.

Police and prosecutors initially charged Poth with second-degree murder while armed in connection with Bushong’s murder.

Prosecutors didn’t formally classify the incident as a hate crime. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Liebman, the lead prosecutor in the case, stated at a pre-trial hearing last year that the stabbing appeared to be a hate crime based on a statement by a witness, who later testified at the trial, that Poth called Bushong a faggot.

Liebman argued that Poth became enraged when the two men first crossed paths on 8th Street, S.E., across the street from the Marine Barracks on Capitol Hill, when Bushong called Poth a “boot,” a term used by Marines to describe a new recruit that’s considered an insult. The prosecutor told the jury that Poth was overheard by a witness saying he planned to retaliate by stabbing Bushong.

Witnesses testified that Poth walked around the area before returning to where Bushong and friends were standing outside a bar and called Bushong a faggot. Liebman called Poth’s action a deliberate attempt to provoke Bushong into a confrontation so that he could stab him. Marine guards, who witnessed what they initially believed was a scuffle between the two men, rush over seconds before Bushong collapsed.

When he heard over a D.C. police radio shortly after his arrest that Bushong was being taken by ambulance to a hospital, Poth said “good” and added that he hoped Bushong would die, according to police testimony.

Poth’s attorney, Bernard Grimm, argued that it was Bushong who chased after Poth when the two exchanged words, saying Poth used his folding pocketknife to defend himself and that the stabbing was an act of self-defense. Grimm pointed to testimony by witnesses that Bushong, who was taller and heavier than Poth, had been ejected from a bar earlier in the evening for being intoxicated and causing trouble.

Following a nine-day trial the jury acquitted Poth of the second-degree murder charge and handed down a conviction on the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Canan scheduled a Sept. 4 sentencing hearing for Poth.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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