- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Alexandria, Va., investigators kept racially sensitive details of the stabbing death of 8-year-old Kevin Shifflett a secret from their own police officers, law enforcement sources familiar with the case told The Washington Times yesterday.

The sources said they were not told that the stabbing of Kevin, who was white, may have been racially motivated information that could have led officers more quickly to the killer.

"The information was held back. That should not happen when this is a serious homicide," said a law enforcement source familiar with the case.

Alexandria police told The Times early in the homicide investigation that investigators did not believe race played a role in the April 19 killing, and that Kevin's attacker did not say anything during the slaying.

But new details recently revealed about the case contradict those statements.

The Washington Post reported Friday that a witness told police that Kevin's killer, a black man, made a statement about hating white people before slashing the third-grader's throat.

And law enforcement sources tell The Times that homicide detectives are now looking at Gregory Devon Murphy, 29, who is from the same Del Ray neighborhood where the attack occurred, as a suspect in the case.

Murphy, who is jailed in Fairfax County on unrelated charges, has not been charged in Kevin's homicide.

But Murphy, who had recently been released from prison, came under increased scrutiny after police found a suspicious note in a hotel room the ex-convict stayed in two days before Kevin's slaying.

The note included the phrase "kill them racist white kids" in broken and misspelled English, according to law enforcement officials.

The Alexandria Journal and The Post have also reported that DNA evidence ties Murphy to a taxicab that investigators believe was used by the suspect shortly after Kevin was killed.

Murphy has a lengthy criminal record in the area with arrests on charges of rape, assaulting a police officer, malicious wounding and sodomy, among others, records show.

At a hearing yesterday on Murphy's April 17 arrest at a hotel in Fairfax County, witnesses testified the naked, incoherent man was "combative" and swore repeatedly at firefighters as they forcibly removed him from the room he set afire.

Murphy's family members said yesterday they still support him.

"Of course we believe that he didn't do it," said his mother, Mae Murphy, as she sobbed on the telephone.

Alexandria police spokesman Lt. John Crawford dismissed questions about the charge that the department withheld important information from its officers and other police agencies.

Regarding the allegation that the killer made racial comments during the attack, Lt. Crawford said: "I don't know if that's been substantiated yet. As far as what was said at the crime scene, this is still being analyzed."

Any comments made by the attacker "could be a very critical component of the investigation," Lt. Crawford said, declining to discuss the matter further.

Some law enforcement officers in the area agreed that withholding the racial information may have hurt the investigation.

"I'm surprised the [Alexandria] officers were not apprised of the nature of the crime," one law enforcement source told The Times. "It would have helped them. In a case of this magnitude, it is not a few detectives, but the entire department that is investigating it. The bottom line is the detectives released nothing.

"They had thousands of leads, and if they had known there was a racial component, they could have saved some time," the source said.

Police agencies throughout the region normally withhold from the public key pieces of information in important cases as a way to determine if information offered by witnesses or sources is accurate.

But former D.C. Police Detective Trevor Hewick, who retired last year and is now working as a private investigator, said that detectives who share crucial information with patrol officers can help close cases.

As a patrol officer, Mr. Hewick helped solve a 1989 double murder when the detective on the case shared the nicknames of two suspects with him. Mr. Hewick quickly realized that he was investigating the two men for other crimes.

"The lead detective knew me well enough and confided with me their first names and nicknames, and I said, 'I got the guys' pictures right here,' " Mr. Hewick said. "We were able to lock up those guys within 24 hours."

Alexandria City Manager Philip Sunderland last night defended his police department's handling of the case. Detectives didn't have any evidence at the beginning that the crime was racially motivated, Mr. Sunderland said. And whether other officers should have known such details shouldn't make any difference in how a case is investigated.

"How knowing that would assist or hinder an investigation, I don't quite understand that," he said.

Law enforcement officials have also quietly questioned whether the Alexandria police could have made better use of the resources of federal agencies, especially the FBI.

The federal agency provided Alexandria police with the help of profiling experts agents who gave probable characteristics of the killer and a computer program to manage the thousands of leads and bits of information collected during the case.

But Alexandria police rejected a specific offer of help to search for the killer with FBI agents and a fugitive task force, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the matter.

The FBI's role was limited because the Alexandria police have not asked for any additional FBI assistance in the probe, said another veteran agent who requested anonymity, although the bureau's scientific expertise and highly trained agents are often in demand by police agencies nationwide when a grisly, local crime has been committed.

"Why we're not doing more is a question that needs to be directed to Alexandria police," said the agent.

Lt. Crawford said the FBI's help with profiling and the computer program was "very valuable" and disputed that the FBI's role was limited.

"I don't believe that to be the case," said the lieutenant. "We never refused assistance from any agency. We would welcome any assistance during the course of a high-profile investigation."

• Jerry Seper, Jim Keary and Gerald Mizejewski contributed to this report.

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