A thousand pieces of evidence and a thousand tiny stories at the Metropolitan Police Department’s evidence warehouse

Mattie Smith left a nail clipper in her front pants pocket. It’s a sleek little chrome thing, about the size of a pinkie. It’s a name brand: Revlon. When you pinch its silver legs, it bites down with a clean precision—something Smith could rarely muster in her own life. A nail-file attachment peeks out from between the legs.

That’s the extent of it, Smith’s very own Swiss Army cosmetic. It was just sitting there—left front pants pocket.

A 39-year-old career crack addict, Smith carried the nail clipper, her sister says, because she had nowhere else to put it. She didn’t own a purse or have a medicine cabinet. It stands out among her few possessions because it’s shiny—and because it looks purchased instead of scavenged.

The clippers were the most glamorous thing Smith carried. In her right front pants pocket, she kept a stick of generic lip balm. The tube has gone brown and cruddy at both ends. It shared pocket space with a large black comb, broken in two, with 12 of its teeth missing. Gray soot sits in the comb’s bristles. The two pieces of black plastic are big and thick; she used them to smooth and lift her short black hair.

Smith left behind the tools of her addiction, too: one plastic pink lighter, out of gas; one razor blade; one red plastic mini M&M’s container, inside of which rests one glass crack pipe, complete with black rubber bowl. The pipe is burnt where Smith’s lips used to go.

Smith’s right back pocket, meanwhile, held eight DC-4 lottery tickets (“A Million a Day…Just Play!”), dated Wednesday, March 12, 1997. They were all 50-cent tickets, the cheapest game in town. Smith had played all three bets: straight, box, and straight/box. She didn’t pick her birthday or a lucky number, just random digits that came into her head: 1535, 3241, 527, and so on.

Smith kept the tickets neatly packed together, in mint condition. Maybe one of them was a winner.

Today, these items carry a weightier burden. They must tell Smith’s story, or at least collectively shade in the last minutes of her life. The clippers, the lighter, the lottery tickets, and the rest all have the distinction of having been in the pockets of her black denim jeans at 1 p.m. on a bright and breezy March 27, 1997—the moment Smith was shot to death behind Little People’s Paradise, a private day-care center/elementary school along the 300 block of 15th Street SE.

Ruth Wheeler, the relative to whom Smith was closest, says the things Smith left in her pockets paint a spare picture of the little sister she knew: a chronic addict who often bounced from home to home, who sometimes got her life together, who more often didn’t. There were times when Smith held court at family barbecues and sang along to oldies. She occasionally thrived as a baby sitter for her 12 nieces and nephews.

“Everyone knew she did her little thing,” Wheeler says. “But it didn’t take her personality away.” Sometimes, says Wheeler, Smith would just disappear. In the years before her sister died, Wheeler often went to sleep only after she had watched the 11 o’clock news to scan for her little sister’s face.

After Smith’s murder, her random array of possessions suddenly became evidence: the stuff of gloved hands and high-powered microscopes; of homicide detectives, coroners, and prosecutors; of elaborate forensic machinery designed to retrace her last moments. In the weeks ahead, investigators would put on Smith’s weathered BB Dakota knee-length leather coat, crank her ratty tube of lip balm, and slip feet into her black leather sneakers. In the process, they hoped, they would see what she saw, know what she knew, and convict a killer.

Evidence technicians are ghostwriters. The District had 3,768 murders in the ’90s, according to Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) figures, and 85 this year. And, despite the $10,000 reward the MPD doles out to witnesses, D.C. is a city where people won’t admit to knowing much about murders. Neighbors standing behind yellow police tape may gossip a little about an incident, but they never say much to the cops. So, instead of sussing out conspiracy theories and working sources, officers speak first and foremost about controlling the crime scene. People can be fickle, but the evidence always talks.

Smith was shot nine times. She went down with a hit to the throat and stayed down over the course of eight shots at close range to the left side of her face, according to court records. Seven bullets were removed. The police still have all of them: They are 9 mm slugs, tiny as thimbles. They have copper bodies that have mushroomed out. Some are flecked with Smith’s blood at their crowns; some are bent over like smashed soda cans. Because the gun will almost certainly never be recovered, the bullets can point only to the obvious—that Smith died of what detectives call “overkill.”

Fortunately for prosecutors, Smith’s story didn’t end with her bullet-ridden body. Three blocks away, the killer left his clothes, stuffed into a Macy’s shopping bag: one bright-blue nylon Nautica track suit, one pair of black size-12 Nike high-tops, and one Foot Locker bag. The suit and shoes were splattered with Smith’s blood.

A green dry-cleaning tag was still stapled to the jacket’s collar. It had come from Smile Cleaners, at 1501 Independence Ave. SE.

The dry-cleaning tag—evidence Item No. 23—matched a store receipt dated March 20, 1997, for $31.73. It was signed by a Marion Crawford. After police found the matching receipt in his room a day later, Crawford was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

In court, prosecutor Glenn Kirschner laid out his case, carefully connecting the things Smith and Crawford had left behind. The crack pipe went to motive. The nail clippers, lip balm, and lottery tickets were significant for what they weren’t: weapons, which might have meant that Smith had threatened Crawford. Later, an 11-year-old witness, who had been playing in her fenced-in back yard at the time of the killing, said she had heard a man and a woman arguing. The man had accused the woman of stealing his drugs. “Where’s my [shit]?” the witness said she had heard the man yelling. A few moments later, she heard gunshots.

Before the jury, Kirschner wove in the child’s story with the truths revealed by the bullet holes to Smith’s neck and face, and then with the Nautica track suit sprayed with Smith’s blood. The suit also matched another witness’s description of the killer. Kirschner then showed the laundry tag taken from the suit matching up to the receipts for Crawford.

The jury took less than two hours to deliberate before finding Crawford guilty. Smith’s story ended there, but the evidence—from the burned crack pipe (Item No. 12) to the bloody sweat suit (Item No. 16)—still sits locked away at the police department’s evidence warehouse, alongside the thousands of other tokens that bear witness to lives cut short.

One radiator freckled with blood. One pay phone full of quarters. One semiautomatic pistol with 4-inch barrel and black grips. Several gutted stuffed animals. One brown bag. One 22-ounce bottle of Haffenreffer Private Stock malt liquor. One Seattle Sonics baseball cap. One top of a toilet tank. One bent frying pan. A piece of a one dollar bill (partial serial number 731). A couple of dildos. One tree branch. One Maryland Hunter Safety Handbook.

One medium-sized cooler. One bloodstain cut free from a 1979 Ford camper. One $300 money order from America’s Cash Express, dated March 3, 1997. One confession written to a brother in prison: “Things got hot that’s why I roled [sic]. Little Nut got snitched for something we was together on. You could ask Carl who Lil Nut is.” The letter is signed, “Love from Big Killer and I ain’t never faking.”

Jessie Baker left one blood-soaked ledger. Leroy Houtman left his blood on pieces of wallpaper. Abbey McCloskey left one pair of Nine West shoes, one pair of nylon stockings with holes at the heels.

When you are murdered in the District, your spirit may float heavenward, you may live on in the memories of loved ones, but to the police, your life is rendered in earthly remnants. And they all end up at 2235 Shannon Place SE.

The evidence warehouse is a quiet place that doesn’t really blend into the neighborhood of town houses and mechanic’s shops. There are no windows, no tours, no easy access inside. Behind the building’s metal doors, the evidence waits in anonymous cardboard boxes. The boxes are stacked on metal shelves and wood flats, between concrete buffers. Small boxes are moved by hand. Bigger ones travel by Yale forklift. The evidence is everywhere, cresting just below the fluorescent ceiling lights.

The building has stayed at full capacity since the MPD began leasing it, in 1979. According to Lt. Deborah Howard, acting manager of the department’s property division, there are roughly a million items logged to the warehouse. Howard says her 34-member office takes in 4,000 to 4,500 pieces each month. After several years, if a case and its appeals are all concluded, the department may “purge” its evidence from the warehouse by burning or dumping it. Howard says families rarely reclaim any old evidence. And, of course, many cases never close.

Not all pieces have to do with murders. The warehouse handles evidence of other crimes, lost-and-found goods, and even property storage after evictions. But the homicide cases take up most of the space.

“It’s like being in a museum,” Howard says of her building. She stumbles to describe what all those boxes mean. She calls them “souvenirs,” but then she stops herself. If you deal with evidence long enough, the stuff can blur together. “You don’t become hardened by it. But you begin to say, ‘OK, this is what we do,’” she explains.

Each piece sits on a shelf for the long, slow course of investigations, trials, and appeals. By the time a piece even gets to the warehouse, it has already been marked, measured, sketched, photographed, and given a Mobile Crime Lab number—just one of many possible identifiers. Once inside, it is tagged with a detective’s number, a property book number, a case number, and an exhibit number, as well as, perhaps, a firearms number and an FBI lab number.

And each piece of evidence, from broken wristwatch to killer bullet, generates its own volume of paperwork. Evidence is noted in the technician’s initial report (PD668), the property report (PD81), and the photo report (PD413), as well as, perhaps, a firearms report (a PD698A). If there are drugs in the collection, there are a heat-seal form and a DEA-7 report. If there are hairs, fibers, or DNA, there is a form letter to the FBI requesting an analysis.

When a whole case has been compiled, it is placed in a cardboard box. And many of those boxes go unopened—more than 1,700 D.C. murders from the ’90s remain unsolved, according to a recent Washington Post story. Some boxes have sat at the warehouse for 20 years. Some will collect dust indefinitely, like lost time capsules.

The evidence waits because it can’t always speak. Only a few pieces reveal fingerprints, expose DNA, or point any fingers. “The problem is, you don’t know what is evident to the case,” says Louis Hennessy, former commander of the MPD’s Homicide Division. “Is a cigarette butt half a block away relevant? It’s difficult to tell. In an indoor scene, everything is relevant. The possibilities are endless. It’s a judgment call. The decisions I made, I made from my gut. That’s it. There’s nothing else here.

“It’s a scary thing,” Hennessy continues. “Once you’ve given the crime scene up, it’s gone.”

One pink shoe.

Detective Tony Patterson stopped at the shoe. The first detective on the scene, he had entered the Babylon Club just past 1 a.m. on May 6, 1996. He stumbled through the club, located at 911 F St. NW, trying not to step on any important evidence.

Louis Davis lay dead on the dance floor, face up, head and chest covered with blood. He had been shot many times. Apparently, several patrons had also been hit by bullet fragments bouncing off the tiled floor of the nightclub. Broken champagne bottles, broken barware, and blood were everywhere. Patterson took it all in—nothing too unusual—before noticing the shoe, upright on the marble-coated bar. Someone had lost it. And someone else, apparently, had put it on the bar.

The shoe was a high-heeled slide with thick leather straps. It stood next to a man’s white loafer and an Orlando Magic baseball cap. “I was like, ‘Damn, this shit happened so fast someone ran out of their shoe,’” Patterson remembers thinking.

Patterson dashed outside, looking for a woman with one pink shoe. The woman had to have been in the club at the time of the shooting, and she had to have witnessed something.

Ms. Pink Shoe stood outside, dressed in a short skirt, huddled with two girlfriends. Patterson walked up to her and inquired about her missing footwear. “‘No, I wasn’t in there,’” Ms. Pink Shoe snapped, Patterson recalls. Refusing to play Cinderella, she kept up the denials.

“‘I tell you what, you going to walk your ass home with one shoe on,’” Patterson says he told Ms. Pink Shoe. He kept his promise. She kept her own counsel; the detective got to hold on to the evidence.

In D.C., many people who speak out about a crime have a good reason to think they’ll be the next ones to go. Typically, three types of deaths are investigated by the police: accidentals, homicides, and suicides. But some homicides create a fourth type, covering the murders of witnesses and would-be witnesses—enforcement killings.

Out of the hundreds of patrons attending the hair-show after-party that night at the Babylon Club, detectives could find only one who would admit to having seen the shooting go down. According to court testimony, Davis—”Southeast Man” to friends and neighbors at Sursum Corda Court NW—had beaten up a friend of a man named George Foreman III. Foreman, the witness said, had wanted revenge.

“I was talking to [friends] about my old boyfriend, and I turned around,” the witness testified. “And I seen Southeast Man, and he waved, and I waved back. And then, maybe like a minute later, the shooting happened. As I was turning around, I could see Southeast Man and George standing there, and George [was] standing in front of him shooting him.” Southeast Man, she said, fell to the ground and was “shaking real bad.”

With just one patron helping the prosecutor, Detective Patterson used his pink-shoe theory—fear of retribution—to explain the lack of other witnesses. Evidence eventually revealed the rest of the story. Davis died instantly, and he didn’t leave much. The boxes marked 96-03830 held promise, though: eight 9 mm copper bullets, fragmented; eight 9 mm shell casings; and one size-XXL Fruit of the Loom T-shirt soaked with blood. The blood—the excess of it—has made the shirt hard and crunchy. Davis was 24, 6 feet tall, and 194 pounds. He had pieces of potato in his stomach when he died.

Another crime made the items contained in 96-03830 suddenly valuable. A few weeks after the shooting, Detective George Blackwell was detailed to an unrelated surveillance at an Exxon station at the corner of Branch and Pennsylvania Avenues SE, according to his court testimony. A gunfight broke out, leading to a high-speed chase between the assailants’ gold Toyota Camry, a white van, and police cruisers. During the chase, the Camry stopped and a passenger jumped out, tossing a gun into woods nearby.

The police eventually recovered the Camry. Foreman’s prints were all over the car. The gun was recovered, too, and it matched the bullets and casings from the Babylon Club, which also matched unspent cartridges from underneath Foreman’s girlfriend’s bed. The bullets were 9 mm Speer brand. They would join the rest of the things in Davis’ evidence box.

Margerite Warner, an FBI special agent called in to assist with the Davis case, was able to match the three sets of bullets down to the hour in which they were made. When manufactured, each cartridge casing gets stamped with a bunter tool. By looking at the markings the tool had left, she was able to pinpoint that the bullets had been made by the same bunter, according to her court testimony.

The MPD currently handles fingerprinting, firearms and tool marks analysis, and handwriting examinations. All trace evidence—hair, fiber, and DNA—is sent to the FBI’s laboratory downtown. Technicians can expect to wait as long as six months for DNA results to come back. The firearms unit can take almost as long to run its ballistics tests depending on the case.

After one hung jury in the summer of 1997, Foreman was convicted in a second trial in November. The story of his victim still sits, ready for re-reading, in a box on Shannon Place.

Location: Crime Scene Examination Section, 1501 South Capitol St. SW. Second floor, above police department fleet repair shop. Date: March 25, 2000, 5 p.m.

Evidence Technician’s Office: 35 desks, 10 phones, two computers, four typewriters, 40 chairs (one-fourth of which are broken), 14 pairs of spare boots, 10 televisions, six coffee makers, one teapot, 17 hand trucks, 96 evidence tool boxes, one Darth Maul poster, one Terminator 2: Judgment Day poster, one Scarface video, one putter, one urn containing one uncle’s ashes, two rifles, two deer antlers, one mannequin’s foot, five Disney action figures, one Grim Reaper drawing, one Rubik’s Cube (finished), one deck of Uno cards, one filing cabinet with the words “Help Me!” scratched out, one set of photos showing a man’s brains splattered (referred to as “Pumpkin Head”), and one bumper sticker, which reads: “You Haven’t Got A Prayer.”

It’s the slow start to a slow Saturday night shift, but the officers awaiting calls that will send them into brand-new rings of yellow police tape are already in a crime scene, after a fashion. Even in their office—the one place the rubber-gloved technicians can afford to be slobs—they are surrounded by the tiny fragments that tell dead people’s stories.

Before the evidence gets carted off, each murder gets photographed: wide angles for the crime scenes, close-ups for the fatal wounds. Sitting at his desk, Evidence Technician James Holder stamps his name and a number to the back of several series of photos. One set details the murder of an elderly woman. She was beaten over the head and stuffed in a stairwell closet. The woman was found wrapped in plastic, buried under old clothes. Her clothes, the plastic bags, and even the carpets are now evidence.

Holder also has a few suicide cases. One series of pictures shows a middle-aged man, post-swan dive off the Duke Ellington Bridge. The man’s head exploded on impact with Rock Creek Parkway. Red spongy chunks litter the lush green grass. Holder stuffs the photos back in their envelope.

The snapshots are the easiest thing an evidence technician touches—a final document of how a scene looked. The harder work of figuring out how the scene came about takes place down the hall. In a room connected to the office are several large tables covered with tan paper. On these tables, technicians examine and catalog crime-scene bits once they’ve been photographed. A technician opens up orange bio bags and assigns a number to each item: one pair of bloody jeans, one bloody shirt, one set of shoes, several bullets. He works in silence amid the detritus of death. Wearing rubber gloves, he empties out pockets as if he were readying the clothes for the laundry.

Just a few doors down, another technician works in the evidence-drying facility, aptly dubbed the “Stinker Room.” It’s at full capacity: a pair of high-tops, a pair of bedroom slippers, a half-dozen cotton undershirts, two flannel shirts, several puffy down jackets (they take a long time to dry), a half-dozen bluejeans, and assorted pieces of clothing found on a Jane Doe. The goods hang in converted shower stalls or lie on wood pallets. The clay-red blood stamps the garments in all different patterns—as small as raindrops, as large as burst balloons. Some bloodstained items dangle from jumbo paper clips, which are themselves suspended from a metal shelf.

When it all gets dried, a technician will bag garments and send them to Shannon Place. Maybe the holes in the clothes will eventually get matched up with bullets used in crimes. Or maybe the clothes will just stay in the warehouse.

Nearby, a wad of bills, a plastic bag of bullets, and a gun clip are waiting to be tested for fingerprints. Evidence Technician Pamela Cooper works alone in the lab room, dusting objects with black magnetic powder, spraying a series of chemicals and then processing the area with an alternative light source (ALS). Sometimes, she processes her items through the Cyvac II, a machine that sprays a mist of #Super Glue that adheres to latent prints.

The Cyvac hums while Cooper steadies a Polaroid MP4 665 camera. Cooper has found a print on a dollar bill by using the ALS. Now she just needs to shoot a photo. And then she’ll file it away.

Work proceeds slowly. Throughout the night, the officers scour objects and then move on to next. Each evidence technician carries upward of 40 cases—either in court or in the office—at any given time.

Holder, though, hasn’t had anything to do all shift but file pictures. He hasn’t gotten a single call to a crime scene. He hasn’t gleaned some secret knowledge from a single item found at one of the scenes his colleagues have spent their night reconstructing.

“We’re here strictly for evidence,” Holder says, smoking a cigarette outside his office. “Anything about their personal life, that’s the detective’s thing. We have no part in that.”

The palm prints show up on the white-and-turquoise tiled bathroom wall just above the tub in Apartment No. 2 at 1231 Simms Place NE. One fingerprint tip emerges on the tub’s cold-water knob, another on the hot-water knob. They appear outlined among the swirls and swoops of Evidence Technician Ridley Durham’s magnetic-powder brushstrokes. When he’s finished brushing the tiles, it looks like one giant Rorschach test. Durham, a big man working in a really tiny bathroom, has to scrunch his body ever so slightly to check out his powdered images. With each shifting of his weight, he lets out a big sigh. It’s a tough job, especially because the tub is still wet. But soon, the prints congeal to the powder. “You never know,” Durham says.

Durham presses a wide strip of transparent tape to the powdered prints and sticks them onto fingerprint paper. His partner, Evidence Technician Ricky Hammett, then carefully slides the prints into plastic bags. The prints aren’t a big catch. “They did a good job cleaning this place,” Durham mumbles.

The two got the call at 4:10 a.m., hours after Holder’s shift ended. When they arrived, a 5th District detective greeted them at the front door and directed them up the rickety stairwell to the second-floor. A woman overdosed or drowned in the bathtub, and someone might have heard screams. That’s all they know. By the time the technicians get to the apartment, there is no body and little evidence.

The pair find three needles—two in a bedroom, one on the bathroom sink. Bloody tissues float in the toilet. Durham and Hammett sketch the apartment, take photographs, and measure the width and length of each room. After fingerprinting the bathroom, they’re finished. It’s close to 6 a.m.

The prints and the needles will soon make it back to the crime lab. There, a report will be written up, photographs will be sent for processing, and each piece of evidence will be given an item number. The fingerprints will be sent on to the MPD’s fingerprint-analysis section at 300 Indiana Ave. NW. Officers there will look for matches with the victim or suspects.

Back at 1231 Simms Place, the sun has come up, turning the sky a bright springtime blue. Durham stands by the mobile crime van puffing on a menthol, taking a break. He doesn’t know what to make of the crime scene. It could be an overdose; it could be a murder. “The scream throws everything off,” Durham says. “Why did she scream? We lifted those fingerprints. Maybe they could tell us something. We don’t know. You never know.”

Annabelle Littles attended two candlelight vigils. She met with a half-dozen patrol officers, two detectives, two evidence technicians, and one D.C. councilmember. She also packed up her things and moved across town, away from 3861 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, the home she had made for two of her three sons.

Littles never slept in that two-story red-brick town house again after the evening of Aug. 20, 1996, the moment those two sons—19-year-old Larnell Littles and 12-year-old Larell Littles—were shot and killed as they tossed a Nerf football in their front yard.

When she moved, she left behind a house that had held her sons’ entire lives—which she now keeps boxed up and committed to memory. She has Larell’s awards from art contests he won in the second and sixth grades, his cartoon drawings, his prize in a school talent show for his Ike-and-Tina rendition of “Proud Mary,” the report cards loaded with A’s and B’s. And she has Larnell’s encyclopedia, awarded for being the sixth-grade class valedictorian, his two Employee-of-the-Month awards from CVS Pharmacy, his Eastern High School diploma, and his acceptance letter from the University of the District of Columbia.

Annabelle Littles’ own personal evidence boxes contain her sons’ too-short stories. The police, though, took the necessary things for the only story they have to tell.

On that balmy August night, the 19-year-old on his way to college and the 12-year-old headed to junior high became mobile crime lab No. 96-7380, and their front yard became a crime scene containing 47 pieces of evidence. The police’s version of the Littles brothers’ story begins with 20 shell casings. Item No. 36 is a .22-caliber copper slug that still has bone bits from Larnell Littles’ jaw; Item No. 33, a mashed .22 slug taken from Larnell Littles’ right calf. Item No. 37, five shotgun pellets that look like Nerds candies. Item No. 43, a .22 slug from Larnell Littles’ liver.

Larnell Littles left the police a pair of white athletic socks, now brown with dried blood at the feet. He left behind one pair of Fruit of the Loom boxer shorts, size 34-36. They are cut in half and stained with blood and a yellow substance that could be iodine or urine. He left behind a gray tank top, a Mossimo T-shirt, Hunt Club American Jeans, size 34, and white leather Reebok low-tops, all peppered with pellet holes and blood. Larnell’s clothes and shoes look brand-new. The only thing that looks used at all is a green belt, worn at the third and fourth notches. He was skinny.

The evidence box for Larnell Littles also contains one Metro school pass (expiration date Sept. 30, 1998). He is pictured clean-shaven, looking serious and cool, his eyes focused just above the camera’s lens. The box holds one Scripto erasable pen, one AMC movie pass (expiration date September 1997), and one key chain with the words “Absolute Madness” stitched into the rope. The words are splattered with more blood. He left behind two house keys and a small dark-red plastic address book containing the phone numbers for Eddie and Tamika, among others.

He left a pack of peppermint Life Savers. There were nine left.

The only evidence of Larell Littles in the evidence warehouse is one North Carolina Tarheels baseball cap. The 12-year-old was shot in the head once and died. The hat, with its angry stains of blood, was all the technicians needed.

In death, victims’ stories barely include the victims themselves. According to court documents, the two young men were slain by three gunmen: Marquette Riley, Sayid Muhammad, and Antonio Marks. The three were members of the Rush Town Crew, based just across the District line in Suitland, Md., which was feuding with the Fairfax Village Crew, based a block from the Littles’ home.

To avenge the death of one Rush Town Crew member, the three and a driver, James Stroman, court documents say, picked out three random boys playing football in a yard. They pulled up to an adjacent shopping mall, got out of their car, and ran to the Littles’ fenced-in property. A witness heard them yelling, “Get him! Get him now!” according court documents.

Riley, Muhammad, and Marks fired from a .38 revolver, a .22 rifle, and a 12-gauge shotgun. They didn’t know Annabelle Littles’ sons or the boys’ friend Robert Johnson, who was grazed by a bullet and recovered. “It was like shooting ducks in a pond,” says Grant Greenwalt, the evidence technician who worked the scene. “They didn’t have a chance.”

During the trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Rowan thought about bringing some more of Larell and Larnell Littles into the courtroom. He thought about introducing a yellow-and-purple Nerf football like the one the Littles had been playing with that night. He could have held it up in one hand and held the guns in another, to highlight the crime’s brutality. But Rowan decided against the football display, figuring it might be ruled inadmissible. Victims rarely get personalized at trial because of rules against inflaming the jury. So he just used Larell’s baseball cap. As defense attorneys like to say, the victims are irrelevant.

Four-and-a-half years later, Annabelle Littles still won’t go near 3861 Pennsylvania Ave. In her new kitchen hangs Larell’s key chain—the one item she has that was left from the crime scene. It fell off her son as he was being transported to the hospital. A police officer returned the key chain that night.

The red-white-and-blue chain holds the keys to Annabelle Littles’ old house. She wore the chain twice to court. Now it swings on a plastic hook next to her fridge.

When Littles looks at it, she says, she remembers her youngest son—and the officer’s expression the moment he gave her the item. She knew then that Larell had died. “I could tell by his eyes,” Littles says. “It was like he was giving me something, something that I will never forget. He had to bring it back to me.” CP