- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2000

A handyman who lived out of a van has been charged with the first-degree murder of Monsignor Thomas Wells, a popular priest whose body was found brutally slashed and stabbed in the Mother Seton parish rectory in Germantown, Md. on June 8.

Robert Paul Lucas, 25, of Clarksburg, Md. confessed to the murder after an all-day interrogation by detectives on Saturday in his hometown, said Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose yesterday morning during a press conference.

"It was a burglary gone bad," said Officer Derek Balailes.

Police believe Mr. Lucas, who investigators say has a criminal record was burglarizing the church when the monsignor woke up and tried to stop him.

A $50,000 reward posted by police may have pointed them in Mr. Lucas' direction, according to authorities.

Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler said his office got a tip Thursday from a lawyer whose former client named Mr. Lucas as the killer.

Mr. Gansler said police kept Mr. Lucas under close surveillance before arresting him Saturday.

Investigators following Mr. Lucas saw he was wearing a unique boot that matched a print left in the rectory.

Officer Balailes said it was too early to say who, if anyone, would get the reward money.

Rewards are being used more often by most local jurisdictions in high-profile murder cases. The reward in the still-unsolved stabbing murder of an Alexandria, Va. boy, for example, has reached $100,000.

Church employees found the body of Father Wells, 56, after the priest failed to appear for 8 a.m. Mass on Thursday.

Authorities said they found items from the rectory in Mr. Lucas' van. The boot Mr. Lucas was wearing did match the shoe print found at the murder scene, Mr. Gansler said. The Mother Seton Roman Catholic Church is located on Father Hurley Boulevard in Germantown.

"We have a confession from the perpetrator as well as scientific and forensic evidence," said Mr. Gansler.

Mr. Lucas is being held in the Montgomery County Detention Center and will be arraigned today.

Mr. Lucas does not appear to have any ties to the parish, either as a handyman or a worshipper, they said.

Officer Balailes said they were not looking for other suspects in the case. "We believe he [Mr. Lucas] is the only one involved in this murder," he said.

Mr. Lucas was taken in for questioning after police, armed with a search warrant, gathered evidence from his van parked in the 14200 block of Comus Road in Clarksburg.

Police said Mr. Lucas admitted he killed Father Wells after being questioned all day Saturday.

Vigils for Father Wells, who came to Mother Seton Roman Catholic Church in January 1999, were held throughout the weekend following his death.

Also, crisis counselors met with altar servers, and junior high and high school students from the parish.

Father Wells was buried Tuesday. Cardinal James A. Hickey, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, led the Mass of Christian burial at Sacred Heart Church in Bowie, Md.

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