Monae Turnage death leads to charges against boy's mother

ShootingsCrime, Law and JusticeJustice SystemBiotechnology IndustryChemical IndustryJohn Ward

The mother of one of the boys who accidentally shot 13-year-old Monae Turnage helped drag the girl's body into an alley behind the home and then hid the gun in a police officer's car, authorities alleged in court papers filed Friday.

The new accusations against Veronica Alford, 49, place an adult squarely in the middle of what had been portrayed as a horrific but youthful mistake. The March shooting prompted outrage from community members and city officials, as well as an investigation into the actions of a city police officer.

Prosecutors disclosed this month that they had decided not to charge the officer, John Ward, in the case — angering Monae's family. Ward had been suspended after the .22-caliber rifle used in the shooting was found in his personal vehicle. The officer, who had been dating Alford's daughter, is the focus of a continuing internal investigation.

Alford was charged Friday with being an accessory after the fact, obstructing and hindering a police investigation, and giving false statements to officers during their investigation into the shooting. Court documents show that police believe it was Alford who put the gun into Ward's truck.

"The charges announced today are the result of the determined and collaborative efforts of police and prosecutors to bring to justice everyone responsible for the tragic loss of Monae Turnage," Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein said in a statement.

Alford's attorney, Isaac Klein, questioned the amount of time police and prosecutors had taken to charge his client, but he said he was making arrangements for her to turn herself in.

"She maintains her innocence," Klein said. "It's interesting that it took them this long to come to this conclusion. I can't imagine they have anything now that they didn't know months and months and months ago."

In addition to handling the gun, police says, Alford helped move the body of Monae, who was found under garbage bags in an alley. The girl's family told The Baltimore Sun earlier this year that they had been told by detectives that Alford's DNA was found on Monae's bra; Alford's attorney confirmed she had been questioned.

Monae's death led to an outpouring of grief in East Baltimore, where the girl who wanted to be a pediatrician had perfect attendance at William C. March Middle School and read announcements over the school's public address system. Her family could not be reached for comment Friday.

Monae had left her house March 3 to go roller skating with friends but instead went to the home of one of the two boys, where they got the gun from under a relative's bed. The boys said they were playing with the gun when it went off, hitting Monae in the chest.

Prosecutors said at a juvenile court hearing that Monae was still alive when she was moved, though they later retracted that statement and said she had died instantly. The youths who were charged in the shooting initially lied to investigators about when they last saw Monae but admitted responsibility in May in the juvenile court system.

Martinez Armstrong, Alford's 21-year-old son, has been charged with reckless endangerment because police say he failed to secure the gun used in the shooting. He also faces a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm; he was convicted in 2008 of first-degree assault, which resulted in a 15-year prison sentence with all but two years suspended. Armstrong is tentatively scheduled to go to trial on the new charges Dec. 17.

In documents filed Friday, police say they believe the boys had help moving the body because of the girl's size and added that DNA evidence bolstered that theory.

"DNA analysis indicated that the defendant, Ms. Alford, helped lift the victim and assist [the boys] remove Ms. Turnage from the house in an attempt to cover up the crime and protect her sons," police wrote in charging documents.

Ward was immediately suspended after the gun was found in his GMC truck following a tip from a witness. Neither he nor his attorney, Christie Needleman, has commented on the case since prosecutors decided not to charge him.

Ward still faces possible internal charges. Police would not comment on whether detectives believe he was aware that the gun was in his vehicle, saying that would be part of an internal affairs investigation. Under state law, police cannot commence an internal investigation until after a criminal investigation has run its course.

Alford was in court as her son, 13, broke down crying during the hearing where he admitted to a charge of involuntary manslaughter. At the hearing, the judge in the case called the concealing of the body and lies to investigators "an absolutely inexplicable level of horror."

jfenton@baltsun.com

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