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Spate of 5 killings linked to ‘risky’ lifestyles

By Steve Lyttle, Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Mark Washburn
slyttle@charlotteobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/03/16/10/nOP4t.Em.138.jpeg|237
    MARK WASHBURN - mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com
    "This is an anamoly," Deputy CMPD Chief Kerr Putney said at a news conference Tuesday while discussing a spate of homicides that began Thursday.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/03/16/10/1bl8P9.Em.138.jpeg|422
    - CMPD
    Police released this picture Tuesday of a man wanted in the killing of Jose Jesus Hernandez-Diaz on Sunday. Police said the suspect has several aliases including "Colocho" and "Douglas Ubaldo Valle Zuniga."

A burst of five unrelated killings in Charlotte – including three in a single day – led police Tuesday to the unusual step of announcing that the public had little to fear and that the slayings appeared related to risky lifestyles.

“This is an anomaly,” said Kerr Putney, deputy chief for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police, at a news conference.

Investigators believe at least three of the killings since Thursday were related to the drug trade, Putney said. Others were likely the result of disputes between acquaintances prone to violence, he said.

The deaths increased Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s homicide total this year to 35 – three more than last year at this time, Putney said. The 52 homicides last year were the fewest for Charlotte-Mecklenburg police in 24 years, and the city was trending even lower until the recent spate of violence.

“We’re trending in a good direction right now,” said Putney. “We could match a historic low.”

At least eight killings this year are believed to be drug-related, police said, the second-highest factor in this year’s homicides behind violent arguments, which have left 15 dead.

The most recent homicide was reported around 2 a.m. Tuesday at Club 124 Atando, on Atando Avenue. Police arrived to find a man who had been shot.

The man died en route to Carolinas Medical Center. A short time later, police say, another person arrived at Carolinas Medical Center with a gunshot wound that was not life-threatening. Detectives said they think the shootings were the result of a narcotics-related dispute outside the club.

The dead man was identified as Dominick Eugene Alexander, 22.

Detectives remained at the scene until after 6 a.m. Tuesday, interviewing possible witnesses and looking for evidence.

Many witnesses left the scene before police arrived, Putney said.

4 more homicides

In the other homicides:

• Just before 5 p.m. Thursday, Bennett Eugene Miller, 34, was shot in the parking lot of an apartment complex in Steele Creek as students were getting off a school bus nearby. It happened on Kings Ridge Road, near where South Boulevard meets Old Pineville Road.

Antonio Torez Cousart, 25, and Maurice Quema Wilson, 22, have been charged in connection with Miller’s death. Detectives believe drugs were involved, Putney said.

• Around 12:05 a.m. Sunday, police said they were called to a residence in the 9200 block of Trinity Road, off Beatties Ford Road in northwest Charlotte.

Investigators found Earnest Sean Milton, 34, who had been shot. Police are not saying what led to the shooting.

On Tuesday, Dennis William Graham, 38, turned himself in at police headquarters after a warrant was announced for his arrest.

• At 1:30 a.m. Sunday, police were summoned to the El Gavilan Club in the 3800 block of Driftwood Drive, off Central Avenue. The victim in that shooting was identified as Jose Jesus Hernandez-Diaz, 26.

Detectives said another person was shot and suffered life-threatening injuries. They believe the shootings took place inside the club.

Investigators said on Tuesday that they were trying to find a suspect who uses the aliases “Colocho” and “Douglas Ubaldo Valle Zuniga” in connection with the killing.

• Around 10:30 p.m. Sunday, police began investigating the homicide of James David Lockhart, 32. His body was found in the 5400 block of Manning Road, in a north Charlotte neighborhood bounded by Nevin Road, North Graham Street and West Sugar Creek Road.

On Monday, police arrested Robert Martin, 27, Richard Payne, 24, and Moises Puente, 31, and charged them with Lockhart’s killing, robbery with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon.

Police said the four men knew each other and that Lockhart was shot during a drug deal. Investigators said Lockhart died at the scene.

Help needed

Police are asking for the public’s help in all of the slayings. Anyone with information can call detectives at 704-432-8477 or leave information with Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600.

Steve Lyttle: 704-358-6107 Twitter: @slyttle
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