Arrests made in popular DC principal’s murder

WASHINGTON - Four search warrants were executed Monday morning, leading to the arrests of four people in connection with the death of a popular northwest Washington middle school principal...

By Jim Iovino and Pat Collins
NBC Washington

Four search warrants were executed Monday morning, leading to the arrests of four people in connection with the death of a popular northwest Washington middle school principal.

Artura Otey Williams, 46, was taken into custody in the 5300 block of Fifth Street N.W. and charged with crimes linked to the death of Brian Betts but not with his actual murder. She was led from the home in handcuffs.

Williams was charged with two counts of knowingly receiving a stolen credit card with the intent to use it, attempted theft less than $1,000 in value, and attempted fraudulent credit card use. Police said Betts’s credit cards were used to make purchases and that surveillance photos captured Williams using one of those credit cards on April 16, the day after Betts’s body was found, at the Giant Food on East West Highway in Silver Spring.

A second raid occurred at an apartment in Oxon Hill, Md., where police picked up three people. Alante Saunders, 18, of no fixed address, and Williams’ son, 18-year-old Sharif Lancaster, of Northwest, were charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and the use of a handgun in a felony crime of violence. Deontra Gray, 18, of Oxon Hill, was charged with murder, robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery.

Investigators found Betts’s wallet and a receipt for a pair of Nikes purchased the day after the death, Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger said. Other items were seized from the Oxon Hill apartment, but it is unknown if they are connected to the case.

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A third search warrant was executed in the 4300 block of Third Street S.E. The location is just blocks away from where Betts’s SUV was found last month in the 3900 block of Fourth Street S.E. A fourth was executed in Prince George’s County.

Police believe the motive was robbery, Manger said. Police don’t believe the slaying was random, though they can’t rule that out. The medical examiner ruled it a homicide by gunshot.

One or more of the suspects connected with Betts through a phone chatline the night he was last seen alive. Betts found the chatline through a computer website described as a “sexually-oriented, social-networking website,” Manger said.

Lancaster’s fingerprints were found in Betts’s home near where his body was found. Saunders’s fingerprints were found on the exterior and interior of Betts’s SUV.

Betts, the principal at Shaw at Garnet-Patterson Middle School, was found dead in his home on April 15. Police said they believe Betts was still alive at 11:30 p.m. April 14. His body wasn’t found until the next evening.

Police said a car was seen leaving the alley along Betts’s home at 12:15 a.m. April 15 and believe it might be linked to the case.

Betts was a highly respected educator who was hand-picked by D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and placed at Shaw Middle School. He was known for his enthusiasm and dedication to his students.

Neighbors reported seeing Betts, 42, grilling at his home on April 14. Betts, however, didn’t show up for school the next day. Usually, he would stand on the corner greeting arriving students.

A concerned coworker went to his home in the 9300 block of Columbia Boulevard in Silver Spring that evening and found the door unlocked and a light on in a bedroom and called police.

Police found Betts’s body in a second-floor bedroom, and his SUV was missing. The SUV was found the following Saturday in Southeast. Police believe it was abandoned there between noon and 3 p.m. the day before by two unidentified people.

Police also determined several of Betts’s credit cards were missing from his home.

Police examined Betts’s computer to see what he may have been doing online prior to his death and to see if a personal classifieds website has anything to do with the death.

Betts’s home was the scene of a double-murder in 2002. Then-homeowner Greg Russell and his 9-year-old daughter, Erika Smith, were shot and killed in their home. Anthony Kelly was found guilty of murdering both of them.

Anyone with information is asked to call homicide detectives at 240-773-5070.