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Derrick Prillman said he killed his father. During 12 hours of questioning by Washington, D.C. homicide detectives, 18-year-old Prillman explained how he and his father Raymond got into an argument and how the older man grabbed a knife from a T.V. tray and threw it at him, glancing against his shoulder. The six-foot-two, 220-pound teenager described how he picked up the knife, plunged it into his father’s chest, and then rummaged through his father’s pants pockets and pulled out a wad of cash. He capped off his confession by telling the cops that he threw the murder weapon out the back door. The problem was, none of it was true. A paramedic unit, responding to a 911 call, was the first to arrive at the brick rowhouse in northeast Washington, D.C. on the morning of Sept. 5, 1998, followed by officers from the Metropolitan Police Department’s 6th District, whose headquarters were just across the street from the crime scene. The cops found 59-year-old Raymond Prillman, wearing only a navy blue T-shirt and light-blue jockey shorts, lying face down on the floor of his first-floor bedroom, dead of a single stab wound to the upper part of his chest. The phone was next to his body; the cord had been pulled out of the wall, and the handset was off the hook. A coroner estimated that Prillman died between midnight and 2 a.m. on Sept. 5. There was no evidence of a break-in. About $170 in cash was lying on a table in the living room. And the murder weapon — a 3-inch black-handled kitchen knife with the words “J.A. Henckel” on the blood-stained blade — was found on the stoop just outside the back door. There appeared to be blood stains on the money and on a blue recliner in the living room, as well as a trail of blood droplets leading up the stairs to the second floor. To the detectives, the scene, as they later described it, suggested only one conclusion: Someone from inside the house killed Raymond, and it was most likely one of his sons. Raymond Prillman had been a Washington, D.C. cab driver for more than 30 years. He and his wife separated in 1974, due to Raymond’s alcohol problem, according to Carlos Prillman, his 31-year-old son from that marriage. Raymond never divorced his wife, but lived with his girlfriend, Ruth Ann Harrington, with whom he had three children — Derrick, Mark, and James. James was born severely mentally retarded and eventually was sent to a home in Mitchellville, Md. Harrington died suddenly in 1984 from congestive heart failure — leaving Raymond to care for 4-year-old Derrick and 1-year-old Mark. Carlos says the next year, his father sought help for his drinking problem from Alcoholics Anonymous. Derrick Prillman was diagnosed as mentally retarded by the District when he was five years old, and Raymond received a monthly disability check from the city on his son’s behalf. Prillman is viewed by those who know him as quiet and immature for his age. He didn’t have many friends. And in an area of the city known for teen-agers ditching classes and hanging out in the streets, Prillman behaved exactly the opposite. He struggled in school — repeating first grade and spending a couple of his elementary school years in special education classes. But he stuck with it. At the time he was arrested, Prillman was a high school senior. According to next-door neighbor Muriel Anderson, Prillman and his 15-year-old brother Mark would come home directly from school and wait until their father returned from work. “They were nice kids,” Anderson says. “They were not the kind of kids that ran up the street. They always treated me with respect.” The boys seemed to take after their father. Raymond was pleasant, but not very social. He worked six days a week as a driver for Yellow Cab and never hung out with the other cabbies between shifts, according to friends and colleagues. “He was one of those guys who was always trying to make money,” says Bobby Brisbon, a mechanic at Yellow Cab who says he knew Raymond for more than 15 years. Brisbon said he eventually talked Raymond into buying a new car — a Crown Victoria — about two years before he died. Raymond was proud of having finally purchased a home for his family in 1996, says Susan Jamerson, a Yellow Cab cashier. “He was very excited about having a place for his kids to grow up in,” she says. Besides a new car and house, Raymond was also excited about a new person in his life — Kathryn Shaw, a 31-year-old lifelong Washington, D.C. resident. Jamerson says that Raymond talked about making Shaw dinner and how the two worked out together. “He had the typical big belly of a cab driver,” Jamerson says. “He was going to the gym to try and lose weight.” Prillman had also spoken of Shaw to Anderson. “He said he was in love with this woman,” she recalled. According to court testimony by police, on the morning of the murder, Derrick and Mark Prillman were questioned briefly by detectives at their Northeast D.C. home. Derrick told officers that he had awakened at about 5 a.m. and went to his father’s bedroom to ask his dad for some money. When he saw Raymond lying face down in a pool of blood, he said he went upstairs and woke up Mark. The two went downstairs and looked at their father, Derrick said. The brothers then went back upstairs, and Mark called 911. Derrick and Mark were taken by squad car to police headquarters at 300 Indiana Ave., N.W. At the station, the two brothers were placed in separate rooms and told that each needed to make a formal statement about what had happened. Homicide Detectives Dwayne Corbett and Darrell Richmond first interviewed Derrick, who appeared relaxed and calm, according to court papers. How was your relationship with your father? they asked. Where do you go to school? After 15 minutes, they took a break. Richmond, now joined by a colleague, Detective Linda Fowler, interviewed Mark in a similar fashion. After that, the two detectives returned to Derrick. This time, they brought up the fact that only he and Mark were home at the time of the murder. They asked if Mark could have stabbed Raymond. Derrick said no. They asked if he killed his father. Derrick said no. Derrick said his father’s girlfriend had keys to the house. “Maybe she came in and killed him,” he told investigators. Mark, meanwhile, according to police testimony, told detectives that he heard the shower running in the upstairs bathroom between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. Detective Fowler would later testify that Mark said it must have been Derrick in the bathroom because he didn’t see his brother in bed. Apparently at an impasse with their subject, Fowler and Kauffman toughened their approach. They told Derrick that either he or Mark would be arrested and that Mark would be killed or would hang himself in prison. They promised that Derrick could go home as soon as he told them what really happened, according to court papers. Using what has become a common law enforcement technique, the officers then told Derrick — even though it was untrue — that his fingerprints were found on the knife and money. At that point, Derrick dropped his head and said he wanted to use the bathroom. He said he would tell them “the real truth.” Derrick then confessed to the murder. At 7:35 p.m., the detectives read Derrick his Miranda rights. The suspect signed a police form agreeing to talk to investigators without an attorney, and the detectives videotaped his confession. (In court papers, prosecutors defended the detectives’ interrogation, stating that Derrick was free to leave at any time and was provided food and beverages.) Carlos Prillman was sleeping at his Laurel home on the morning of Sept. 5 when his phone rang at about 7 a.m. The caller identification box noted that the call was coming from his father’s house, but Carlos didn’t answer. A few minutes later, Carlos’ aunt called. This time he picked up and was told to call his father’s house because “the boys called and said that they thought [Raymond] was dead.” Carlos drove to the house. “It was a pretty ugly scene,” he remembers. “There were police cars out in front and a police officer out front.” Detective Fowler told Carlos that Derrick and Mark had been taken to police headquarters and that she would call him when they finished giving their statements. Nearly 10 hours later, Carlos still had not heard from the police. Frustrated, he drove to the police station and waited. Mark came out at about 7:30 p.m. “He was shaking and stuttering,” Carlos says. “He said they tried to accuse him of murdering our father.” About half an hour later, Derrick was released. Roughly two hours after Derrick Prillman confessed, a Washington, D.C. police dispatcher received a 911 call saying that a woman had killed her boyfriend the night before in a Yellow Cab. The dispatcher sent a squad car to the residence where the call came from. The police saw two people fighting. One was the 911 caller, the other was Kathryn Shaw, Raymond Prillman’s girlfriend. The officers arrested the caller, whose identity has been withheld by the authorities. The caller repeated his allegations about Shaw and the murder. According to prosecutors, when the arresting officer arrived at a station house with the caller, the cop checked with homicide to see if anyone had been killed in a Yellow Cab the night before. The officer was told no. Three weeks after the murder, Carlos Prillman was told to bring Derrick and Mark down to the station. Derrick had still not told anyone in his family that he had confessed. Police again videotaped Derrick admitting to the murder of his father, and he was arrested and charged with second-degree murder while armed. Derrick, who had no criminal record and no history of drug use, was denied bond and held at the Washington, D.C. jail pending trial. In January 1999, a grand jury indicted him on three counts, the most serious being first-degree premeditated murder. If convicted on that count alone, Prillman faced a mandatory 30-year minimum sentence. Carlos, who had been caring for his brothers since the murder, was devastated. “How do I go home and tell my family that I don’t have Derrick anymore?” Carlos says. “It was hard for me to sell it to myself, but I thought that maybe he did do it. “I didn’t know if I should talk to him again,” Carlos adds. “I had mixed emotions about the whole thing.” Washington, D.C. Public Defender Service lawyer Christopher Swaby was assigned to represent Derrick Prillman. The case didn’t look good. The police had two confessions from his client. There was a written statement, which, it could be argued, was exculpatory because it was Derrick’s version of events before he confessed. In the two videotapes, Prillman often contradicts himself and at times appears as though he is being prompted by the officers on details of the murder. Still, Prillman states several times how and why he killed his father. And he had waived his rights before giving the videotaped statements. The U.S. attorney’s office extended a plea offer of one count of manslaughter, but Derrick refused. “I am not going to admit to it because I didn’t do it,” Derrick told Carlos at one point. Carlos spoke on behalf of Derrick, who declines comment. The U.S. attorney’s office, meanwhile, filed a motion arguing that Prillman’s counsel should be prevented from claiming that a third party killed Raymond. “This danger is particularly acute here because Mr. Prillman and his younger brother initially told the police that the decedent’s girlfriend must have committed the crime, although there was no evidence whatsoever that she had even been at the house that night,” assistant U.S. attorney Nancy Smith wrote in the brief, which, along with the entire court file, has been put under seal by the judge. In April 1999, PDS lawyer Joseph Metcalfe took over the case — just four months before a scheduled trial — when Swaby left the office for another job. The case against Derrick Prillman started to change course. Seven months after the murder, contrary to what the detectives said when they interrogated Derrick on the night of the murder, there was no physical evidence tying him to the crime. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, conducting forensic tests for the MPD, couldn’t pull any “suitable” fingerprints from the knife. And what was thought to be blood on the money found in the living room turned out to be “vegetative matter,” possibly ketchup. No blood had been found in Derrick’s bedroom or the bathroom. Metcalfe moved for a mental health evaluation of Derrick and filed a motion to suppress the confessions, arguing that Derrick was coerced into the admission. Now a lawyer at the Justice Department, Metcalfe declines comment. Brenda Baldwin-White, the fourth prosecutor to handle the case, called Carlos Prillman on Oct. 28, 1999. Baldwin-White told him to come down to Washington, D.C. Superior Court to pick up his brother. At the courthouse, Baldwin-White explained to Judge Nan Shuker that the government had received new information about the murder. She recommended that Prillman be released to his family. “When the new information came in, the detectives acted, and this office acted, immediately,” says Baldwin-White. That day, Carlos took Derrick home. Carlos Prillman had become the family caretaker after the murder. Living with him and his wife in their small three-bedroom apartment were his stepdaughter, his own daughter, and Mark. Derrick, who had been locked up for nearly a year, had lost more than 50 pounds and had grown a beard. Shuker formally dismissed the charges against Prillman at the government’s request on Dec. 16, 1999. Sgt. Joe Gentile, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department, says the police followed up on every lead since 1998. Gentile added that he could not comment on this case because of the possibility of a civil suit. Nearly two years after Raymond Prillman was murdered — and nine months after the government exonerated his son — police arrested the person they now believe committed the crime. On Sept. 14, the U.S. attorney’s office charged Raymond’s former girlfriend Kathryn Shaw with first-degree murder while armed. According to the arrest papers, the 33-year-old Shaw allegedly came to the Prillman house in the early morning hours of Sept. 5. The two argued and Shaw — five-eleven and 175 pounds — pulled a knife from her purse and stabbed Raymond, police believe. She then moved the phone away from Raymond so he couldn’t call for help. She dropped the knife on the stoop as she ran out the door, according to police. The government claims to have two witnesses to whom Shaw allegedly confessed. One is the 911 caller who was arrested for fighting with Shaw. Detectives investigating Raymond’s murder never received the tip until Shaw became a suspect late last year, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. A second witness claims that Shaw used to carry a “Ginsu”-type knife in her purse. Detectives interviewed Shaw in October 1999. According to police, Shaw said she had dated Raymond for about a year and a half. On the night of Sept. 4, Shaw said she called Raymond and asked if she could come over. Raymond said no and mentioned that he was seeing someone else. Shaw said she became upset and called back several times, but Raymond wouldn’t pick up the phone, the arrest warrant claims. Indeed, records show that between 11:54 p.m. and 1:18 a.m. eight calls from Shaw’s home number were registered on Raymond’s caller ID. Shaw said she eventually went over to an old boyfriend’s house to take her mind off Raymond. She also told detectives that she did not have a key to the Prillman house. As stated in the arrest warrant, police searched Shaw’s home on Oct. 27, 1999, and found two sets of kitchen knives of the same brand used in the murder. They also found Raymond’s driver’s license in her bedroom. According to a pretrial services report, Shaw has lived with her mother in northeast Washington her entire life. She is divorced, with one child. For the past 18 months, she has worked at a health store in Rockville, Md. Shaw has had a series of mental health problems, according to the government. At a hearing last week, Shaw’s court-appointed attorney, Martin Rosendorf, said that Shaw has been taking a series of prescription medications for depression, anxiety, confusion, and sleeplessness. Baldwin-White said in court that Shaw also uses cocaine. Rosendorf declines to comment. The government’s case, however, will be difficult to prove. As was the case with Derrick Prillman, there is no physical evidence linking Shaw to Raymond’s death — at least none that the government has proffered. At Shaw’s preliminary hearing on Sept. 21, Superior Court Judge Patricia Wynn told prosecutors that the case barely made the threshold of probable cause to arrest Shaw. Still, Baldwin-White told the judge that the government expects to have an indictment within the next two weeks. Since being released from jail, Derrick Prillman, now 20, has been working at a fast-food restaurant in suburban Maryland. He has also been taking courses with the hope of getting a high school equivalency diploma, and a driver’s license. Carlos, meanwhile, has been trying to support Derrick and Mark, along with his own family — working two jobs nearly seven days a week. He says he is relieved that Derrick has been cleared of the crime, but doesn’t understand why it took police more than a year to figure out that Prillman didn’t kill their father. “I just think the police tried to close this case very fast,” Carlos says. “I don’t think they took time to examine the facts. Otherwise, what they know today would have been known a long time ago.”

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