Judge finds probable cause for murder, arson

A D.C. resident, who spent the majority of his life on the 1100 block of Queen Street, NE, was found to have probable cause in setting a fire on the same street that was responsible for killing a 66-year-old man.

Taylor Garrett was arrested and charged with the second-degree murder of Ayele Awlachew on Dec. 15, 2017. According to the D.C. Office of the Medical Examiner, Awlachew died on Jan. 26, 2017, from soot and smoke inhalation combined with multiple contusions of blunt force trauma.

According to testimony from Metropolitan Police Department Detective Robby Lawrence, several witnesses identified Taylor, who was a known drug dealer and user, and reported that he forcefully took over the apartment that Awlachew shared with two other men. Lawrence said people frequented the apartment, conducting drug and other illegal activities, at all hours of the day and night.

One of the reasons for probable cause in Judge Ronna Beck’s decision came from reports that police smelled smoke on Taylor’s clothing. When questioned about the smell, Taylor told the police he was allegedly pepper sprayed, but that could not be corroborated.

Lawerence said a witness testified that noises and other sounds of commotion were coming from Awlachew’s apartment. The witness used an umbrella to bang on the ceiling, in which the noise settled, but then the witness smelled smoke.

According to the defense team, Taylor did not have a motive to commit the homicide. The defense referenced a statement Taylor made hours earlier that seemed as if he was trying to stop someone from setting a fire in Awlachew’s apartment. The defense used this example to show that Taylor was more protective of the victim than he was aggressive.

The defense also presented the theory, referencing a lighter in Awlachew’s hand, that he started the fire accidentally. Awlachew was a known drug user.

Judge Beck dismissed the theory, saying the lighter in Awlachew’s hand, while he laid on a make shift bed, was not near the closet where the fire started.

Judge Beck denied bail based on Taylor’s criminal history and a recommendation from pretrial services that said the community would not be safe if he was released.

Taylor is scheduled for a felony status conference on May 18. The case is still waiting to be presented to a grand jury.

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