Darron Dellon Dennis Wint has been charged with first-degree murder while armed in the case of three members of a prominent family and their housekeeper found bound and killed in a scorched mansion in Washington, a government official said Friday.
Earlier reports identified the suspect as Daron Dylon Wint, but newly obtained court documents show that this was just one of several alias that he used; his legal name is Darron Dellon Dennis Wint.
His arrest comes a week after the grisly discovery of the bodies of Savvas and Amy Savopoulos, their son, Philip, and their housekeeper Veralicia Figueroa in the Savopoulos home.
A day after they “barely missed” catching him in New York, Cmdr. Robert Fernandez of the U.S. Marshals Service said, authorities spotted Wint, 34, leaving a Howard Johnson hotel in College Park, Maryland. They tracked, surrounded and stopped Wint, who was riding in the back of a Chevrolet Cruze, and they also stopped a small box truck that had been traveling alongside in northeast Washington.
Sources told CNN on Friday that law enforcement officers found $10,000 in cash during the arrest.
Wint is set to appear in a District of Columbia court late Friday afternoon. As of midday Friday, no one else had been charged, including two females and three males, one of them Wint’s brother, who’d been in the Cruze and box truck and were also arrested, according to law enforcement officials.
While questions remain, the victims’ families breathed a little easier Friday knowing that a suspect is in custody.
“While it does not abate our pain, we hope that it begins to restore a sense of calm and security to our neighborhood and to our city,” the Savopoulos family said in a statement.
Signs of trouble before the fire
The May 14 fire in the $4.5 million home in one of Washington’s toniest neighborhoods, not far from the home of Vice President Joe Biden, was a story in itself.
But soon it became evident that the blaze wasn’t the full story.
It’s believed that all four victims died before the mansion was set on fire, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
The victims were bound with duct tape, and they suffered from blunt force trauma, the source said. There were signs that Philip, the 10-year-old son, had been stabbed and tortured, according to the source.
Figueroa’s husband, Bernardo Alfaro, raised the prospect that the victims’ torment started a day earlier, telling CNN affiliate WJLA-TV that his wife didn’t come home the night of May 13.
Alfaro knocked on the mansion’s door the next morning, noting that Savvas Savopoulos’ blue Porsche was parked on the street. He knew something was wrong, according to WJLA. He suddenly got a phone call from Savopoulos telling him that Figueroa was at a hospital with Amy Savopoulos, who wasn’t feeling well.
“I started thinking, ‘Why? She doesn’t drive. She doesn’t speak very good English,’ ” Alfaro said.
A second housekeeper, Nelitza Gutierrez, also received a text message from Amy Savopoulos hours before the fire began, telling her to stay home. It came a day after Gutierrez got a voice mail message from Savvas Savopoulos telling her not to come the following day because his wife was sick.
“Sometimes you never understand why something happens, but I’m lucky I’m still here,” Gutierrez told CNN’s Joe Johns.
Source: ‘Whoever was in the house was looking for money’
What really happened is largely a mystery. The motive for the killings has not been divulged, but investigators are considering that money may have been a prime factor.
“Whoever was in the house was looking for money,” said the source familiar with the investigation.
According to The Washington Post, as the episode unfolded inside, one of Savopoulos’ employees came to the home and dropped off $40,000.
A separate law enforcement source said a suspect or suspects made off with $40,000. The money had been earmarked for a martial arts studio that Savvas Savopoulos was opening up in Chantilly, Virginia. Savopoulos was a martial arts enthusiast, according to online posts, and Wint once worked for American Iron Works.
Savvas Savopoulos was the CEO and president of American Iron Works, a building materials manufacturer based in Hyattsville, Maryland.
DNA on pizza crust
Investigators identified Wint as a suspect in an unusual way.
On May 14, a Dominos deliveryman brought two pizzas to the Washington home with four victims held hostage inside, said the source familiar with the investigation.
No one came out to get the pizzas, but cash was stashed in an envelope and placed on the mansion’s porch, according to police.
Investigators traced Wint to the scene after finding his DNA on pizza crust.
Ex-lawyer calls Wint ‘kind, gentle, nonaggressive’
An attorney who represented Wint in six earlier cases — none of which, he says, ended in guilty verdicts — said he believes authorities have “the wrong guy.”
Even if his DNA was found on pizza crust, it doesn’t mean Wint went inside the Savopoulos mansion, much less bound and killed anyone, attorney Robin Ficker told CNN’s “New Day” on Friday.
A video released by Washington police of a man outside the mansion didn’t show any identifying facial features, the attorney added.
“I know him to be a kind, gentle, nonaggressive person; (he is) someone you wouldn’t mind your grandmother going to lunch with,” the Maryland lawyer said. “… It’s a rush to judgment. There’s a presumption of innocence, which is not being mentioned by police.”
According to court records, Wint has faced multiple charges over the years, including theft, assault and a sexual offense. He was cleared of some of them, but he has three assault convictions in New York.
He attended Marine Corps recruit training in 2001 but left before completing the camp. It was not clear why.
A neighbor of Wint’s parents expressed sympathy for them.
“I feel very sad for them, for the pain they’re going through, which is not their fault,” Devera Zianal said. “Whatever happened, if he is guilty, he had choices. I know he was not raised this way.”