Prince George’s County Police announced on Thursday that they have charged a 33-year-old Baltimore man with first-degree murder for the June 13 shooting death of transgender woman Zoe Spears, 23, on a street in Fairmount Heights, Md., just across the D.C. border.
At a news conference at P.G. County Police Headquarters, Commander Brian Reilly, who oversees the department’s Homicide Unit, said police on Wednesday arrested Geraldo Thomas of the 1900 block of West Lexington Street in Baltimore City. He said Thomas was being held without bond.
In a first-time disclosure by P.G. Police, Reilly told the news conference that detectives in the days following the murder obtained video from a nearby video surveillance camera that captured the shooting. He said homicide detectives obtained additional evidence showing Thomas used a shotgun to kill Spears.
Reilly said one of several video cameras homicide investigators obtained from the neighborhood where the shooting occurred shows Spears being shot by someone inside a silver colored Dodge Caravan van after the van stopped and she approached it from the front passenger side window. Reilly said the video shows Spears appeared to be talking to the driver.
“Seconds later, what appears to be a muzzle flash can be seen and then the silver Dodge Caravan drives off,” according to a police charging document called a Statement of Probable Cause, which was filed in Prince George’s County District Court. The charging document describes in detail what the video shows.
“The decedent is seen collapsing to the ground where she is later found by the 911 caller,” the charging statement says, referring to someone who saw Spears unconscious on a sidewalk and called police. “Additional residential and commercial surveillance camera footage was collected, which showed the… Dodge Caravan [later linked to Thomas] fleeing the area on Eastern Avenue, 63rd Street, NE, and then along Maryland Park Drive, in Capitol Heights, Maryland towards Central Avenue,” the charging statement says.
Reilly told the news conference that homicide investigators immediately began a massive undertaking to track down the license plate number of the van, which was not visible in the video, and the identity of its driver by seeking help from Dodge dealerships in the D.C. metropolitan area and reaching out to the motor vehicle administrations in Maryland, D.C., and Virginia.
“As we reached out to DMV partners they returned [information about] approximately 50,000 Dodge Caravans,” he said. “We were able to reduce that to about 3,000 that fit the description of that specific color,” Reilly said. He said detectives then sought help from the three jurisdictions’ police and motor vehicle departments to obtain license plate reader data for any silver Dodge Caravans in the entire region.
Reilly was referring to automated license plate readers, which are high tech camera-like devices that are mounted on street poles, streetlights, highway overpasses, mobile trailers, and sometimes attached to police cars, according to a write-on on the website of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The so-called LPRs also record the time, date, and location where a vehicle’s license plate is photographed.
“We had about 30,000 license plate reader hits involving silver colored Dodge Caravans,” Reilly said. With the help of P.G. County police detectives and others in the department as well as help from police in D.C. and Virginia and help from motor vehicle department officials in all three jurisdictions, his detectives were able to narrow the search down to one vehicle, Reilly said.
That license plate reading from a silver Dodge Caravan was captured about two hours prior to the murder and about a half mile away from the murder scene, he said. Investigators found the vehicle had been rented from an Enterprise car rental agency in Baltimore and that Thomas was the person who rented it as a temporary replacement for his own vehicle that was being repaired, Reilly told the news conference.
“We began to do a lot of background on him,” Reilly said, prompting police to obtain a warrant to search Thomas’ residence and to obtain a DNA sample from him. He said a shotgun similar to the one used to kill Spears was found in Thomas’ residence during the police search.
The Statement of Probable Cause charging document says homicide detectives also found through cell phone records that Thomas’ phone signal was picked up near the site of the murder around the time of the murder.
The document says homicide detectives interviewed Thomas shortly after midnight on Wednesday, July 17 at the P.G. Police Homicide Unit offices, where he waived his Miranda rights to decline to answer questions without representation from a lawyer.
“What we got from our interview from him last night is we still do not have a motive in this case,” Reilly said at the news conference. “He was very vague about his involvement. And I’m not going to get too much into the interview and interrogation,” he said.
“However, he does place himself on the scene,” Reilly continued. “He does place himself there with a shotgun. And he does place himself inside that vehicle,” Reilly said. “But the motive is still unknown. That’s something we’re still working on.”
What investigators do know, Reilly said, is there is no evidence so far to link Spears’ murder to the March 30 murder of transgender woman Ashanti Carmon, 27, who was also shot to death in Fairmount Heights, Md., just a few blocks from where Spears was shot.
“There is no link at this moment between these two cases,” he said.
LGBT activists and those who knew the two women expressed alarm that both were killed in the same area, which is known as a place where transgender women and cisgender women engage in sex work. People who knew the two women have also said that the two knew each other and were friends and that Spears may have been a witness to Carmon’s murder.
Reilly said he and homicide investigators are aware of those reports and that, although an arrest was made in the Spears case, the investigation into both cases continues. A P.G. Police statement released after the news conference includes a photo of Thomas and of the Dodge Caravan that Thomas rented and allegedly used to drive to and from the murder scene.
The statement urges anyone with information about the case to contact police detectives at 301-772-4925.
Jennifer Donelan, director of the P.G. Police Media Relations Division, announced at the news conference that the department has recently created an LGBTQ Outreach Team consisting of P.G. County Police officers and command staff.
Donelan said the new Outreach Team will assist in cases like the Carmon and Spears murders.
D.C. transgender rights advocate Earline Budd on Thursday released a statement she said reflects the views of others in the transgender community in response to the arrested of a suspect in the Spears murder.
“We would like to first say thank you to the Prince George’s County Police and detectives for their hard work in bringing closure to Zoe’s murder,” the statement says. “But our community still will not and cannot rest until the murderer of Ashanti Carmon is apprehended also,” the statement says. “We continue to feel strongly that it is not by coincidence that these two women were killed in Fairmount Heights within 90 days apart and only 5 blocks apart in Fairmount Heights, Maryland,” it says.