(Updated at 4:00 p.m.) James Sylvester Caroline pleaded guilty this afternoon to the murder of Columbia Pike jewelry store owner Tommy Kin Mo Wong.
Caroline entered the plea before Arlington Circuit Court Judge William T. Newman, Jr. Newman sentenced Caroline to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus an additional three years for a weapons charge. The plea removed the possibility of Caroline facing the death penalty.
As part of the plea deal, Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos read a statement of facts about the case.
Wong was born in Hong Kong but eventually emigrated Northern Virginia, married and raised a family. After working for years in the jewelry business, he purchased the store at 3219 Columbia Pike, named it Capital Jewelers, and began selling and repairing jewelry and watches.
An industrious man with a well-established daily routine, Wong’s family became worried when he didn’t return home after work on Friday, July 27, 2012. They called police, who were dispatched to the store, and then his wife and daughter drove to the store themselves.
After receiving permission from the family, firefighters broke the front window of the store to allow police to gain entry. They found Mr. Wong, deceased from a gunshot wound, in a rear hallway.
Video surveillance from the store and the nearby Days Inn, obtained during the extensive investigation that followed, showed the tragic scene and its aftermath unfold.
A man in reflective vest, later identified as Caroline, was seen entering the store and looking at the display cases with Mr. Wong. The man then pulled out a .40-.45 caliber silver handgun, and ordered Mr. Wong to place jewelry in a bag. Mr. Wong complied, handed over the bag, then started backing away. The man shot him once in the chest and left the store, prosecutors said.
The man in the vest was seen from the Days Inn getting into a Ford Explorer with the bag of jewelry, then driving away.
Police released surveillance images from the store, which led to a tip that the vest belonged to Parkinson Construction, which was doing masonry work on the new Wakefield High School, about two miles away. After police visited the job site, they received a call from the company’s attorney, informing them that one of their workers, James Sylvester Caroline, had recently applied for a transfer from the Wakefield job.
Caroline, who was on parole for credit card fraud, was found to drive a Ford Explorer. With that and other evidence, police obtained a warrant and, after Caroline left Wakefield on Aug. 1, 2012, he was pulled over by the Arlington police tactical unit on nearby King Street. The 53-year-old D.C. resident was arrested and held on an unrelated probation violation. He was charged with Wong’s murder two days later.
Detectives reportedly found papers in Sylvester’s car with the addresses of other jewelry stores which had recently been robbed. They found a pocket watch, believed to be stolen from Capital Jewelers. And they found a photo on Caroline’s cell phone depicting him with the silver handgun.
Upon further investigation, police found that Caroline had sold a watch at a pawn shop in Maryland 2-2.5 hours after the robbery on July 27. The watch, a Breitling, was determined to have been stolen from Capital Jewelers thanks to a serial number match.
Caroline displayed little emotion during the proceedings. With a team of three attorneys by his side, he quietly answered Judge Newman’s questions, affirming his agreement to and understanding of the plea.
Caroline’s family was in the courtroom for the judge’s sentence, but Wong’s family decided not to attend.
This article will be updated
An Arlington County jury has returned guilty verdicts in the trial of 26-year-old Javon Martin, who was implicated in the 2009 murder of Lyon Village resident Carl Diener.
The jury found Martin guilty of robbery and first degree felony murder today, according to prosecutors. He faces a sentence of 25 years to life in prison. The sentencing phase of the trial will begin this afternoon.
During the trial, which began last Monday, the jury heard testimony from Roger Clark III, Martin’s co-defendant, who pleaded guilty to Diener’s murder in January 2012. Clark described the crime as an early-morning robbery that went wrong when Diener fought back and turned out to be stronger than the men expected. During the struggle, Diener was fatally stabbed.
The case was prosecuted by Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Molly Newton and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney John Lynch.
A more detailed statement from prosecutors is expected later today.
Javon Martin Trial Underway — The trial for Javon Martin, one of the men accused of killing Arlington resident Carl Diener in 2009, began on Monday. Attorneys for the Commonwealth spent much of Tuesday (January 29) presenting evidence against Martin. The other man accused of the crime, Martin’s cousin Roger Clark III, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder last year and is awaiting sentencing. [Washington Post]
Man Arrested for Attempted Rental Car Theft — Police arrested a man who caused a scene at Reagan National Airport on Tuesday morning. He was spotted running around the grounds of DCA and along the George Washington Parkway after allegedly trying to steal a rental car. Airport Police found 28-year-old Robert Cooper of Washington, DC in Crystal City a short time later and arrested him. Cooper has been charged with Attempted Grand Larceny.
Green Valley Pharmacy Receives Historic Designation — The Green Valley Pharmacy in the Nauck neighborhood has been approved by the County Board for designation as the 33rd Arlington Historic District. It is the first historically African American commercial building to be honored as an Arlington Historic District. The designation was granted not for the site’s architectural significance, but for the historical and cultural significance, as well as recognition for Dr. Leonard Muse’s lifetime of contributions to his community. [Arlington County]
New Recruits Sought for Civic Leadership Program — Arlington County is looking new recruits for its Neighborhood College program, which is a free, eight-session course to encourage civic engagement and help residents build leadership skills. Participants will learn how to become neighborhood advocates and how to bring about change for issues affecting the community. The sessions will be held each Thursday evening from April 4 to May 23. Applications for the 2013 Civic Leadership Development Program are due March 4, 2013. [Arlington County]
(Updated at 1:15 p.m.) Arlington County police have arrested three suspects in the murder of an 87-year-old Arlington man.
On Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, police found Mack L. Wood, 87, dead in his home on the 3700 block of N. Wakefield Street, in the Old Glebe neighborhood. Three days later, police announced that Wood’s death was “suspicious.”
Today, the Arlington County Police Department announced that three people have been arrested in connection with Wood’s death, which is now suspected to be a homicide.
Among those arrested was Mack’s 47-year-old son. Police records show he was arrested in Hillsborough County, Florida, in the Tampa area, yesterday, Jan. 28.
From an ACPD press release:
The Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit has charged three suspects in connection with the suspicious death of an Arlington County resident. The investigation began when the incident was reported as an accidental death on the morning of October 13, 2012. The victim was identified as Mack L. Wood, 87, of Arlington, VA. His body was discovered inside his residence in the 3700 block of N. Wakefield Street by a family member.
After a thorough review of evidence, forensic examination, consultation with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and an extensive investigation, three suspects were identified and apprehended without incident. The son of the victim, Mack Leon Wood, Jr., 47, was located by the United States Marshals Service in the Tampa, FL area and has been arrested and charged with first degree murder. Jean Caleb Pierre, 32, and Sapien Edmonds, 29, both of Henrico, VA have also been charged with first degree murder. All three suspects are currently being held without bond.
An Arlington County Grand Jury indicted James Sylvester Caroline on capital murder and weapons charges for the murder of Tommy Kin Mo Wong.
Caroline is accused of killing Wong during a robbery of the Capital Jewelers store at 3219 Columbia Pike on the afternoon of July 27. Caroline was arrested just days after the murder during a traffic stop on the Arlington/Alexandria border.
Caroline is set to appear in court on Thursday, December 20, to set a trial date.
Art from 9/11 Children Displayed at Pentagon — Art created by the children of those who lost their life on Sept. 11, 2001 is now on display at the Pentagon. It’s the first large-scale exhibit of the art, which was created by more than 500 children at a summer camp for the children of 9/11 victims. [WJLA]
Long-Form Article Examines Torrez Case — The Washington Examiner’s Harry Jaffe takes a close look at the case of former Marine Jorge Torrez, who is currently serving five consecutive life sentences for the abduction of two Arlington women and the abduction and brutal rape of another in February 2010. Torrez will face a death penalty trial next year for the murder of Navy petty officer Amanda Jean Snell. [Washingtonian]
Book Dating Returns to Shirlington Library — The Shirlington Branch Library (4200 Campbell Avenue) is calling all single bookworms for a “speed book dating” event. Participants are encouraged to bring a couple books they found interesting, and will then be given 3 minutes to discuss them with each potential date. [Shirlington Village Blog Spot]
Affordable Housing Complex Reopens — The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing has reopened the 111-unit Buchanan Gardens apartment complex on Columbia Pike following major renovations. [Washington Post]
Arlington Foundation Raises Millions — The Arlington Community Foudnation has so far raised $4 million on its way to a goal of raising $15 million. The foundation “raises capital for grants and scholarships to address community needs now and in the future.” [Sun Gazette]
Flickr pool photo by Jeff Gamble
Initially classified as “suspicious deaths” yesterday, police now say that they believe Arlington resident Keefe Spriggs, 59, and Carl Moten, 31, were murdered inside the apartment on the 1900 block of N. Culpeper Street.
No weapon was found inside the apartment, according to Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. Still, police are not saying whether a killer is on the loose. Instead, Sternbeck says the crime was an “isolated incident” and that local residents should not be worried about further violence.
Spriggs was a divorced father of two who worked in a body shop, WJLA’s Jennifer Donelan reported Wednesday evening. Moten, a cook at a restaurant in Falls Church, was an acquaintance of Spriggs and was staying at his apartment.
Both Spriggs and Moten had criminal records in Arlington, including DWI and eluding police for Spriggs, assault and probation violation for Moten, and possession of cocaine for both. Spriggs’ crimes dated back to 2003, however, and Sternbeck said so far there’s no indication of any other crime taking place inside the apartment other than the two killings.
After going more than two years without a homicide, these murders are the third and fourth homicide in Arlington so far this summer.
Photo courtesy WJLA/ABC 7
The suspect in the death of Columbia Pike jewelry store owner Tommy Wong has been formally charged with murder.
Washington D.C. resident James Sylvester Caroline, 53, is being held without bond at the Arlington County jail on the murder charge and on a separate probation violation charge. He was arrested on the Arlington/Alexandria line during a traffic stop on Wednesday afternoon. Police say the arrest was the result of dogged police work and inter-agency cooperation.
“Through round the clock police work, this individual was located and taken into custody in a timely manner,” said Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck, who was unable to reveal any other details about the crime or the investigation.
Wong was killed during an armed robbery at his store — Capital Jewelers at 3219 Columbia Pike — on the afternoon of Friday, July 27. At a candlelight vigil on Wednesday, friends and family members described Wong as a kind and gentle man who worked hard to serve customers and provide for his family.
As of today, Arlington County has been homicide-free for exactly two years. It’s the first time Arlington has gone this long without a homicide in the 72-year history of the Arlington County Police Department.
“Reaching this mark is only possible through a combination of effective policing, excellent medical care, successful prosecution and cooperating communities; all of which we have experienced in Arlington County the past two years,” police chief M. Douglas Scott said in a statement.
The county has not recorded a single homicide since March 14, 2010, when a 20-year-old man was stabbed to death in the Lyon Park neighborhood. The suspect in the case later pleaded guilty to second degree murder.
Amid the celebration of the murder-free milestone, however, there’s some concern within the department that there are not enough cops on the street to ensure that the recent, broader drop in crime continues. Despite a growing population and new post-9/11 anti-terrorism responsibilities, Arlington’s police force has actually shrunk slightly since 2001.
Whereas there were 362 sworn officers in Fiscal Year 2001 for a population of 189,983, there are currently 359 sworn officers for a population of 213,400 in FY 2012. That means ratio of officers to every 1,000 residents is 1.68, compared to 1.91 in FY 2001. That ratio is expected to get even narrower — to 1.67 — if the current recommended FY 2013 budget is adopted. (The population is expected to grow to 215,000 while the budget doesn’t provide for any additional officers.)
By comparison, in 2010 Alexandria’s officer/resident ratio was 2.19, and D.C.’s ratio was 6.52, according to a law enforcement source. Just to match Alexandria’s ratio, Arlington would need to hire more than 100 new officers.
“Our numbers are extremely low,” a police official told ARLnow.com. “Obviously we’re working efficiently, I don’t think anybody would deny that… [but] at some point in time, I’m not sure how much lower our ratio can go” without a corresponding increase in crime.
Death Penalty Sought for Torrez — Former Marine Jorge Torrez, who’s already serving a life sentence for raping and abducting an Arlington woman, is now facing a separate murder trial. Prosecutors say they’re seeking the death penalty for Torrez, who’s accused of murdering Navy petty officer Amanda Jean Snell in her barracks on Fort Myer in 2009. [WTOP]
Involuntary Bankruptcy for Market Tavern? — Creditors are trying to force newly-renovated Clarendon restaurant Market Tavern (formerly Harry’s Tap Room) into bankruptcy, claiming the eatery owes them at least $77,000 in unpaid debts. Owner Michael Sternberg says the proceedings won’t have an impact on the restaurant’s operations. [Washington Business Journal]
Elevation Burger Expanding — Arlington-based organic burger chain Elevation Burger is expanding. The restaurant now has 29 locations worldwide, but is planning to have 50 locations by the end of the year. The concept is proving especially popular in the Middle East. Meanwhile, the company is testing out two new burger toppings — hardwood smoked bacon and sauteed mushrooms — at its Arlington location (2447 North Harrison Street). [Nation's Restaurant News]
Historic Designation for Tiny Cemetery — A tiny, historic cemetery plot at 5000 Lee Highway, in the Hall’s Hill community, is getting some attention as Arlington County moves to designate it as a local historic district. The oldest grave in the 7,100 square foot cemetery is that of Margaret Hyson, who died in 1891 and was a former slave on the Hall’s Hill plantation. [Washington Post]
Javon Martin, 25, was arrested on a bench warrant and charged with robbery and murder in the first degree. A jury trial has been scheduled for April 23, according to court records.
Martin is one of two people charged in the case. His cousin, 20 year-old Roger K. Clark III, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in this case earlier this month. His sentencing is set for April.
Diener, 57, was found beaten and stabbed on Dec. 29, 2009 near the intersection of N. 13th Street and N. Hudson Street, three blocks from the Clarendon Metro station. In a “statement of facts” entered as part of Clark’s plea, prosecutors said that Martin stabbed Diener in the chest during an early morning robbery.
Martin was originally arrested in June of last year, but charges against him were dropped in October. It’s unclear why the charges were dropped.
As ARLnow.com first reported yesterday, a suspect in the case, Roger K. Clark III, has pleaded guilty to first degree murder in the case. In a statement of facts entered as part of the guilty plea, prosecutors say robbery was the motive behind the murder — and that Clark wasn’t the only perpetrator.
According to the statement, Clark and his cousin, Javon Martin — then 20 and 24 years of age, respectively — were driving around Arlington County early on the morning of Dec. 29, 2009 looking for someone to rob. They encountered Diener, 57, near the intersection of N. 13th Street and N. Hudson Street, three blocks from the Clarendon Metro station. It was around 3:00 a.m. and Diener was on his way to a part-time job at a local health club, police said at the time.
During the robbery, prosecutors say, Clark punched Diener and then Martin stabbed him in the chest with a knife. Diener was later found lying on the street by a passerby who called police. Medics arrived on the scene and pronounced him dead. According to the statement of facts, Diener bled to death as a result of the stab wound, which severed two major arteries.
Clark’s DNA was found in several places, according to the statement, including on Diener’s palm and in his pants pocket, where Clark had looked for something to steal following the stabbing. In the end, Clark and Martin made off with Diener’s shoulder bag, according to prosecutors.
Clark’s plea was accepted yesterday afternoon by Circuit Court Judge Joanne F. Alper. He’s scheduled to be sentenced on April 27. As part of his plea deal, prosecutors agreed not to seek more than 25 years in prison.
Martin was arrested in June, two days after Clark was arrested, but ultimately prosecutors decided not to pursue the first degree murder charges against him at the time. The charges were dropped in October, according to court records. Martin is not currently in custody, according to Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, who declined to comment further.
Carl Diener’s sister, Patti Diener Lough, said Clark’s guilty plea is comforting to her family.
“Nothing — not even this guilty plea — can ever bring Carl back to his family and remarkable network of friends and colleagues from so many aspects of his life,” Diener Lough told ARLnow.com via email. “But we are immensely comforted to know that a murderer is in custody and will not be able to hurt another person or family like he shattered ours.”
Roger K. Clark III entered a guilty plea on first degree murder charges today, prosecutors said. Circuit Court Judge Joanne F. Alper accepted the plea this afternoon. A sentencing hearing is now scheduled for April 27.
Diener, a 57-year-old Lyon Village resident, was found lying dead on a Clarendon street early on the morning of Dec. 29, 2009. A dogged investigation finally resulted in the arrest of Clark and another man in June 2011.
The second suspect in the case was later released after charges against him were dropped.
No Homicides in 2011 — It’s official: for the first time since at least the 1950s, Arlington County did not record a single homicide in 2011.
Another Book Dating Session — The Shirlington Branch Library is holding another Book Dating for Singles session, after the inaugural book dating event in October was deemed a success. This month’s book dating session will take place at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 15. Using books as conversation starters, participants will have three-minute “dates” moderated by library staff.
Arlington to Install Real-Time Traffic System — Arlington County is planning to install a real-time traffic system along Route 50. The system will track anonymous Bluetooth information from drivers’ cell phones in order to calculate the time it would take drivers to get from one point to another. [Washington Business Journal]
Earlier: If Arlington can go 36+ hours without a homicide, it will be the first year since at least the 1950s without a single recorded murder in Arlington County.
Available police records, which go back to 1960, show at least one homicide has been reported in each of the past 51 years. In fact, there have been 273 homicides in Arlington since 1960 — for an average of about 5.4 homicides per year.
The number of homicides in Arlington has declined since the early 1990s. In the six years between 1990 and 1995, there were 56 homicides in Arlington. Between 2006 and 2011, there have been 13 homicides, as illustrated below.
- 2006: 4
- 2007: 2
- 2008: 4
- 2009: 2
- 2010: 1
- 2011 (as of Dec. 29): 0
The District of Columbia is also experiencing a decline in murders. With 108 reported homicides as of Dec. 29, the District is on track to have the lowest murder tally since 1963.