Suspect denies killing student, attorney says

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The man charged with the January killing of a Johns Hopkins University senior told police interrogators that he forced his way into the woman's apartment and hit her, but that he did not kill her, his defense attorney said yesterday.

Donta Maurice Allen's statements to detectives came in the hours after his arrest Wednesday, as detectives also questioned him about whether he was involved in the fatal stabbing last year of another Hopkins student, defense attorney Warren A. Brown said.

Police spokesman Matt Jablow declined to comment yesterday about Allen's interrogation. Maj. Richard C. Fahlteich of the homicide detectives unit said: "We are pleased with the way this case came together."

Detectives started eyeing Allen, 27, for the nationally publicized killing shortly after Trinh was found dead Jan. 23. He had been seen on surveillance tapes from the high-rise apartment complex, and his arrest came after laboratory tests matched him to DNA found on Trinh at the crime scene, according to court records. Police have repeatedly said that there were no signs of forced entry at the apartment.

Allen is charged with first-degree murder and is scheduled for a bail review today.

He is the former boyfriend of one of Trinh's sorority sisters and worked odd restaurant jobs while becoming a regular figure in the Hopkins social scene.

His previous arrests, according to police, were for possession of marijuana and destruction of property. But a Baltimore County woman, with whom Allen lived off and on from November 2002 to September 2003, unsuccessfully sought a restraining order against him in October 2003, court records show.

In her petition, Sarah M. Long said Allen had made threats of violence and was harassing her at work and with repeated telephone calls. In an interview at the beauty salon where she works, Long confirmed yesterday that she had filed the petition, but she declined to elaborate.

In the petition, which was denied, Long detailed some of the alleged harassment she said she was experiencing as a result of a break up with Allen. "Over the past three weeks, numerous violent threats have been made by Dante [sic] towards me and my family," Long wrote. "Also, Dante has been harassing me on my cell phone, house phone, as well as harassing me at my place of work. He has threatened to 'kill me,' 'beat the crap out of me,' and do damage to my car and home."

A manager for the Towson Town Center, where Long works, said yesterday that Allen had been banned from the mall because of "disruptive" behavior.

For several years, Allen has bounced from home to home, moving as whims - or new relationships - took him, according to records and interviews with relatives and friends.

While attending Perry Hall High School, he lived with different friends, including at least six months with classmate Aaron Smith. Even then, he had an ability to make friends with people from different backgrounds, Smith said.

"He had black friends, white friends, Asian friends," said Smith, who graduated in 1997. "He was pretty good at getting along with everybody. He was outgoing."

School officials said Allen did not graduate from Perry Hall, but relatives said he did.

After high school, he continued drifting, living in Charles Village and Parkville, among other places. Allen was arrested Wednesday at a home near Waverly where his cousin lives, but the cousin said Allen's visits were sporadic.

Yesterday, the cousin's brother, who gave his name as D. Jennings, said Allen contributed to household expenses and sometimes brought girlfriends over to spend the night.

"He worked all the time," Jennings said, "at restaurants, warehouses, wherever."

Jennings said Allen, who also worked as a cook, had aspirations to go to culinary school.

He said he had met the student Allen dated - Trinh's sorority sister - several times when the couple visited the home near Waverly. He said Allen was friends with a number of students he had met through his jobs in Charles Village.

Allen spent a lot of time at the Charles Street apartment where Trinh was found dead, Jennings said.

"They are portraying him like he was some sort of animal," D. Jennings said. "They had parties in the apartment [building] where the girl that was killed lived. ... He never, never, never would have murdered someone."

Allen had been dating Trinh's sorority sister for more than a year, and he lived with her off and on in the building where Trinh lived, said Brown, Allen's attorney.

The student has moved to Oregon, but the two spoke a few days ago, Brown said.

Allen first contacted the attorney Jan. 29, six days after the popular biomedical engineering student was found dead, partially submerged in her bathtub.

Brown said his client told investigators that he had gone to Trinh's apartment the day before - which was the last day Trinh was seen alive - to use her phone, and that she had let him in. That's a different account than Allen's Wednesday account to police, in which he acknowledged hitting her in the head, Brown said.

But Brown said Allen has never changed his assertion that he did not kill Trinh.

Brown contended that police unfairly kept him out of his client's interrogation, which he described as a session of at least six hours that yielded a 40-minute taped statement.

"They knew that if they could sequester him without me, they could pump him for information," Brown said. "Whatever he said to them is not going to hold water because a jury will be able to see that this was not a voluntary statement."

And Allen had nothing to do with the fatal stabbing of student Christopher Elser during an apparent burglary last April, Brown said.

"They had him in there all that time, and the best they could get out of him was a breaking and entering?" Brown said. "I think that tells you something right there."

Sun staff writers Jason Song, Josh Mitchell, Jennifer McMenamin and Dan Thanh Dang contributed to this article.

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