BETHESDA, Md. (7News) — Three teenagers, ages 16, 17, 18, killed a 33-year-old man during a two-ounce marijuana transaction outside the Target in Downtown Bethesda, court documents reveal.
Montgomery County Police have charged Antonio Lawrence, 16, Joshua Wright, 17, and Blaise Ucehmadu, 18, with first-degree murder, armed robbery, and conspiracy to commit robbery.
On Sunday, the three teens met the victim in an exterior stairwell to purchase "two zips of marijuana." A zip is street slang for an ounce. During that meeting, the victim, identified in court documents as Lawrence Wilson Jr., 33, was stabbed in the abdomen and his throat was slit, prosecutors alleged in court.
Law enforcement sources say one ounce of marijuana is worth around $250 on the street.
Around 3:20 p.m. Monday, a man called the second district police station in Bethesda to report that his nephew, Lawrence, had confessed to killing a man near the Target in Bethesda.
By 8 p.m., Wright walked into the second district station and told officers he had witnessed a stabbing outside the Target. A patrol officer drove to the Shops of Wisconsin plaza located at 6831 Wisconsin Avenue and made the gruesome discovery.
"I have one down, possibly DOA, in the stairwell. I need everybody else priority as well," the officer radioed dispatch with a sense of urgency in her voice.
Investigators say a review of Target's surveillance video shows Lawrence, Wright, and Ucehmadu, enter the stairwell with Wilson Jr. Approximately 17 minutes later, the three teens are seen in the video running away. Wilson Jr. never reappeared in the video.
Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy said although the shopping plaza — which has a Target and Trader Joe's — stays very busy, the victim's body went undiscovered for around 24 hours.
"It's a lower-level stairwell that really goes to an emergency exit that only allows people to leave. It is dark down there, it is isolated. It's not a place that people regularly go," McCarthy told reporters.
Wright identified his two accomplices as Lawrence and Ucehmadu, police state. All three suspects resided at the National Center for Children and Families along Greentree Road in Bethesda, about one mile due west of Suburban Hospital. Authorities did not immediately know what circumstances brought the teens to that facility.
On Tuesday, Montgomery County's Repeat Offender Unit spotted Lawrence as he exited his group home. They followed him to a Metrorail station where they arrested him, fearing he would otherwise flee.
"Unsolicited, Lawrence stated to Detective Machon, 'Is that dude really dead?" police wrote in court documents. "Lawrence also stated, 'I was just trying to see my family one last time.'"
Officers transported Lawrence to police headquarters in Gaithersburg where the teen reportedly admitted to robbing Wilson Jr. and stabbing him to death in the process. Lawrence further stated Uchemadu — who is 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds — handed him the murder weapon. Wright told investigators his role was to act as "muscle" to intimate Wilson Jr.
For the second time this month, McCarthy has publicly stated that the street-level distribution of marijuana is not as innocent as some perceive it to be.
"This might be surprising to most people, but the reality is the drug that has been involved in the transaction where lives have been lost, almost invariably turns out to be marijuana."
On Wednesday, the three suspects appeared from the county jail via video for their bond review hearings in Montgomery County District Court. Judge Amy Bills ordered Wright be held without bond, citing the severity of the crime.
"This was an extremely brutal crime," Bills stated. "Just the nature of the charges alone. The court has to look at the safety of the community. From what the court has seen in the charging documents, there is only one condition to ensure the safety of the community and that's to hold Mr. Wright."
"Yes, ma'am. Thank you," Wright said in response to the judge's ruling.
The court postponed Lawrence and Ucehmadu's bond review hearings until Tuesday because all three teens have elected to be represented by the public defender's office. However, the state agency said that would present a conflict of interest should, for example, one teen flip on the other two. The public defender's office said it would find outside counsel for Lawrence and Ucehmadu in time for Tuesday's hearing.
According to the public defender, Wright is in the 12th grade and has been living in group homes for the last 18 months. A program manager with the National Center for Children and Families told the court system Wright was not welcome to return, should he be released.
Law enforcement sources say the victim, Wilson Jr., has a fairly lengthy criminal history and had been in and out of local homeless shelters over the last few years.
In Maryland, anyone age 14 or older that stands accused of first-degree murder, must be tried as an adult.
"They are not eligible to be waived back to juvenile court because of their ages and the nature of the charge," McCarthy explained. "The allegation is a first-degree murder, you must be charged as an adult, there is no discretion."
Lawrence, Wright, and Ucehmad each face one life term in prison, plus an additional 40 years.
Lewis, Kevin. “'Is That Dude Really Dead?' Three Bethesda Teens Murder Man over Marijuana Deal, Cops Say.” WJLA, WJLA, 22 Dec. 2021, wjla.com/news/local/bethesda-murder-homicide-teen-blaise-ucehmadu-target-trader-joes-stabbing-marijuana-weed-stairwell-joshua-wright-antonio-lawrence.
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