Baltimore police have pushed against criticism over their handling of the investigation into tech CEO Pava LaPere’s murder — after revealing that her alleged killer had already been identified as a suspect in another attack several days before her body was found.
US Marshalls and local and state police arrested Jason Dean Billingsley, 32, without incident on Wednesday night for the murder of LaPere. Authorities said during a press conference on Thursday that Billingsley was surrounded by a SWAT team at a train station in Bowie, Prince George’s County.
It was revealed that LaPere was likely murdered on 22 September, but her body was not found until three days later. Sources previously told The Baltimore Banner that she had been found with evident signs of blunt force trauma on the roof of her apartment building.
Police also said that a warrant for Billingsley’s arrest had been issued on 20 September, a day after he allegedly carried out a sexual assault and arson attack that left two adults and a child injured. The incident took place at a building where Billingsley worked, located just a 15-minute walk from LaPere’s residence.
Answering questions from reporters on why a public safety advisory had not been sent to the community of a potential threat with Billingsley on the loose, Baltimore Acting Police Commissioner Richard Worley said that his department didn’t think he would strike again because the first attack appeared to be targeted.
“We pretty much know why he went into that house [on 19 September]. He was familiar with the building. He knew the victims,” he said. “We didn’t think at that point that he was committing random acts because we know he had been out since October 2022 and he wasn’t linked to any violent incidents.”
Commissioner Worley went on to say that Billingsley was expected to check in with probation officials on the same day that LaPere’s body was found. A detective who had investigated the incident on Edmondson Avenue and then responded to the crime scene at LaPere’s building immediately realised there was a link between the attacks.
Law enforcement expected Billingsley to report to them on that day because he had been compliant in the past, Commissioner Worley said.
“The incident on Edmonson Avenue was not a random act,” Commissioner Worley said. “Had it been a random act, we would have put out flyers right away saying this individual was on the loose committing random acts.”
Why the first incident being targeted made a difference in alerting the public remains unclear. Court records document Billignsley’s lengthy criminal history and repeated sex offences, which landed him in jail with a 30-year sentence in 2015.
In 2009, he pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and was given two years of supervised probation.
He violated the terms of his parole and was convicted of second-degree assault in 2011. Billingsley served two years over the 2011 conviction and just months after being released in 2013, he was arrested again on attempted rape charges.
In 2015, Billingsley was sentenced to three decades in prison, with 16 years suspended and five years of supervised probation, after he pleaded guilty to a first-degree sex offence.
The sentence, which was struck under the previous administration, was below guideline standards, Baltimore District Attorney Ivan Bates said on Thursday. Mr Bates said that Billingsley was set to serve 14 years but then went on to earn diminution credits, per Maryland sentencing guidelines.
Billingsley was released in October 2022, something that “should have never have happened,” Mayor Brandon Scott said at the press conference.
Authorities are still trying to determine whether LaPere and Billingsley knew each other before her murder. The DA said his office intends to seek a life sentence without the possibility of parole for Billingsley.
“My wish is that we can give the family and community a sense of closure,” Commissioner Worley said. “We’re going to put this violent repeat criminal offender in jail, where he belongs,” Acting Police Commissioner Richard Worley said. “Let’s work together and make sure he stays there.”
LaPere’s family thanked law enforcement for their “tireless efforts” in capturing Billingsley.
“We’re relieved to know he can no longer hurt other innocent victims,” the family said in a statement. “While this doesn’t change that Baltimore lost one of its most passionate, influential fans, our efforts remain focused on remembering and celebrating Pava Marie — her life, successes, and legacy.”