WASHINGTON - It has been two years since police say Daron Wint held three members of the Savopoulos family and their housekeeper hostage in their Northwest D.C. home before viciously killing them and setting the house on fire. It was a cruel and wicked crime that left many people stunned.
So far, Wint is the only person facing charges in a case that still has so many unanswered questions.
The case against Wint came together fast. The first arriving firefighters knew immediately what had happened in a room on the second floor.
"If you advise the chief the room (unintelligible) is a crime scene,” said a first responder in radio communications call from the scene.
As that word spread, then-D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier came to the scene along with Mayor Muriel Bowser.
"Upon our personnel entering the house on Woodland Drive to extinguish the fire, they discovered four victims in the house,” said Bowser.
"We know that there is a Porsche, a 2008 blue Porsche 911 that was last seen at this home this morning around 10:30 [a.m.] and has not been seen since,” said Lanier. “So we have now located that car.”
That blue Porsche was found behind a church in New Carrollton where it had been deliberately torched by a man caught on camera running from the scene – a person that Chief Lanier later said was Daron Wint. The bucket in his hand was presumably carrying $40,000 delivered to the Savopoulos’ house.
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With the fire extinguished and the victims’ names revealed, investigators went to work quickly finding a key piece of evidence in the case – a pizza crust that prosecutors say contained the saliva and Wint’s DNA.
Just a few days later, Chief Lanier was back in front of the cameras saying, "We believe he was the person that we put out in seeking the person of interest in the video released last week … Right now, it does not appear that this was just a random crime, but there is a connection through the business – of the suspect and the Savopoulos family business.”
Wint once worked as a welder at American Iron Works in Maryland. By weeks end, Wint was in custody and arrested by U.S. Marshals who had tracked him from New York.
Two years later, he is still awaiting trial. It is a trial that may or may not answer some of the most troubling questions such as – why was that family targeted?
"Motive is always nice,” said former D.C. homicide detective Jim Trainum. “People always want to understand why something happened. However, the motive that exists might not be one that we can understand. It's only known to him.”
As we reexamined the case two years later, we asked Trainum and defense attorney Bernie Grimm to give some insight on how these cases come together and how they are defended.
"You have to base your defense on what they have and what you think they are going to get,” said Grimm. "Your job is to destruct and to destroy and annihilate the government’s case to the extent you can. DNA, according to a lot of people, is infallible. Actually it’s not.”
The Savopoulos’ home is just an empty lot now. But two years ago, prosecutors say Wint came here and carried out a vicious attack killing Savvas and Amy Savopoulos, their son Philip, and housekeeper Veralicia Figueroa.
But why did Wint come here? Was this some kind of revenge? How did he get here and how did he get into the house?
Did he have help? That is the one of the most baffling unanswered questions, especially since the police were the first to say detectives did not think the killer acted alone.
“Because no one [else] has been arrested doesn't mean that they don't have another suspect,” said Trainum. “That’s one angle to look at it. They may have DNA from somebody else, but they just haven't been able to connect them to the crime or they may have a good lead on somebody, but they just haven't developed the necessary probable cause.”
Or he may have been alone and in control.
"Think about hijackings before 9/11,” Trainum said. “People were trained – just do what the hijacker wants, everybody will be safe and we will get out of this alive. That could be very well be what happened here. He got control of one person and everybody else just complied with his orders until it was too late and they couldn't resist any further.”
When you look at it from the other side, whether or not he was alone, it could work for the defense.
"If you are a defense attorney, you are asking the government we want to know who this other person is because our defense could be that guy was the ringleader,” Grimm said. “He was the guy telling Wint what to do and Wint could say, ‘Listen, I went there to argue with the guy over the fact that I was fired. All of a sudden it turned into a robbery, a kidnapping, the house got burned down – I didn't have any part in it. I was there under duress myself.'"
With the trial still at least a year away, Trainum said the work for prosecutors and detectives never stops.
"You are always trying to test your assumptions and to make sure that you aren’t falling victim to tunnel vision,” he said. “I don't care how good you think your evidence is. It’s still a crapshoot. You are not guaranteed a conviction.”
The trial has been delayed so the defense can retest all of the DNA that has been tested by the government so far. It is a defense that is already busy examining hundreds of items discovered in the course of investigating one of the District's most troubling and vile crimes.