- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2000

The family of a slain Lanham couple said they are "horrified" by a Prince George's County Circuit Court judge's recent decision to release on bail one of two indicted suspects.

Robert Angel Perez and Thomas Jefferson Gordon, both 19, were charged with first-degree murder in connection with the Sept. 15, 1999, killings of Nirwan Thapar, 61, and his wife, Shashi, 52, owners of the Bladensburg Animal Hospital.

Relatives of the victims said they are frustrated because Perez has been released on $100,000 bail.

I fear for my family, said Namita Chaudhary, daughter of the victims. He's out there now, and he can do whatever he wants.

Mrs. Chaudhary said neither she nor her husband, Naveen, attended the Dec. 1 bail hearing because prosecutors assured them the decision for bail would be based strictly on the victim's prior offenses.

Both teen-age suspects have extensive juvenile records.

In a news conference Aug. 11, Prince George's County Police Chief John S. Farrell linked the crime to a growing trend toward youth violence. Chief Farrell said that while the arrests wouldn't bring the victims back, they would keep the suspects from "preying on our community."

Mrs. Chaudhary said she was shocked to learn of Judge Graydon S. McKee's decision and attempted to contact him, but her calls went unanswered.

"I just want to know why he did what he did," Mrs. Chaudhary said.

Judge McKee has heard a number of high-profile cases involving juveniles and violence. He sentenced Travis Lionel Savoy, 15, to life in prison plus 40 consecutive years for the robbery and slaying of Eduardo Catillo, 33, a pizza delivery man. Savoy, who was 14 at the time of the slayings, is the youngest person ever convicted of murder in Prince Georges County.

A 14-year-old Oxon Hill youth who exploded a pipe bomb in his home and has materials to build 20 more explosive devices was found "involved" (equivalent to guilty in juvenile court) on three counts related to the manufacture and possession of explosive devices and reckless endangerment. The judge found the boy "not involved" on two charges of malicious destruction of property and two counts of possession and manufacturing of a chemical bomb.

The youth could be put on probation, or ordered held in a juvenile detention facility until he is 21, or placed in a psychiatric treatment program.

Judge McKee who was first appointed to the Circuit Court by Gov. Harry Hughes, a Democrat, in 1987, was elected to a 15-year-term in November 1988. A graduate of the University of Maryland Law School, he served as a law clerk for Circuit Judge William Bowie before going into private practice and being appointed a juvenile master in 1975.

Paula Burr, spokeswoman for the Prince George's County state's attorney's office said, "We don't agree with this judge's ruling, and we definitely agree that Mr. Perez should be behind bars pending his trial."

Chief Farrell could not be reached for comment.

After his arrest on an unrelated robbery charge, Perez was initially denied bail in District Court, but Judge McKee overturned that decision.

Gordon remains in prison pending a February trial.

Police said the killings, which took place at the animal hospital on the 5600 block of Annapolis Road at about 1:15 p.m., likely were the result of a robbery gone wrong.

Mrs. Thapar, who was working at the receptionist's desk, was shot in the head. Mr. Thapar attacked the gunman and also was shot.

Mr. Thapar was declared dead at the scene, and Mrs. Thapar died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital after giving police an initial description of the suspect.

An elderly family friend, who worked as a groomer for the Thapars and possibly could have identified the suspects, died before the arrests.

Upset by the lack of progress on the case, the Chaudharys began an Internet petition drive in February, calling on Chief Farrell, Prince George's County Executive Wayne S. Curry and Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening to escalate the investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice.

On April 15, the case was featured on the Fox network's TV show "America's Most Wanted."

According to court documents, a witness who knew the two men came forward on Aug. 7, saying Perez and Gordon had admitted to shooting the couple.

Encouraged by the capture of the suspects, relatives of the Thapars now see the situation as "chaotic."

"I feel like my parents aren't getting any justice up there in heaven," Mrs. Chaudhary said. "They're safe now, but we re still living in fear."

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