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Did he murder his mother? (continued)

Despite his troubled background, Raheem had no prior criminal record. "I didnít hang with the gangs," said the small-framed, baby-faced 5í8" Raheem in his low, cautious voice, during a prison interview in January 2003. "I didnít want to get killed or locked up." He graduated from William McKinley High School in 1992, and spent the next several years trying and failing to get a start on his life. He became a Muslim, took a new name, and spent time at mosques on Shawmut Avenue and Washington Street. He enrolled in courses at three different community colleges, but never accumulated credits. He took security-guard jobs that he would hold for several months before quitting. In February 1999 he joined the Army, but received a discharge two months later due to temporomandibular-joint (TMJ) syndrome, before completing basic training. A year later, Raheem was still living with his great-aunt Hill, and the house was getting crowded. Hill, who had a long-standing practice of taking in children, had adopted a 15-year-old girl, Ameika Chambers, and was also taking care of two boys, sons of her friend Patricia Harden.

Meanwhile, his mother was running a successful day-care center in her apartment and raising her two daughters. She had become religious, attending the Pentecostal New Life Restoration Temple in Codman Square every Sunday with her daughters. In September 1999, six months before she was killed, Chatman made a decision to shut down her day-care business and enter a five-day-a-week GED program at Project Hope, a womenís education and service provider in Dorchester. She and her daughters would sit around the kitchen table and do homework together.

On the day of the murder, Chatmanís daughters, Kimberly and Kelly, told Detective Wayne Rock that Raheem had always hated their mother. The next day, Kimberly told Rock that three days before the murder she had tried to call Hill, but that Raheem had answered the phone and been verbally abusive to her. Rock wrote in his report that "Kimberly feared for her safety." In her courtroom testimony, Kimberlyís description of the telephone-call incident was considerably more benign than in Detective Rockís report. She testified merely that Raheem gave Hill the phone, and that in the background she heard him say, "Why do they always have to call here?"

When Lee prosecuted Raheem, he argued that this simple telephone exchange was the "triggering event" for the murder. In both his opening and closing arguments at trial, Lee theorized that Chatman went to Maywood Street to confront Raheem about that telephone call, and when she appeared at the door, Raheem snapped and killed her.

The search for evidence

When Detective Coleman and his partner at the time, Juan Torres, examined the crime scene on the afternoon of February 10, 2000, they had several circumstantial reasons to consider Raheem a suspect. As the person who called police to the scene, Raheem had the last known access to the body. In addition, numerous signs indicated a clean-up effort after the murder. A mop still damp with blood stood in the kitchen. The bathtub contained standing water and fresh droplets of water and blood; more blood was found in a soap dish and on a washcloth. Clothes and sheets were found soaking in what appeared to be bloody water in the washing machine in the kitchen.

If Colemanís own report is any indication, he thought that "only a person with an interest in the residence would take such extensive measures to clean a crime scene."

Even more damning, in Colemanís view, were small swipes of blood in the hallway between Hillís bedroom, where the body was found, and Raheemís bedroom. On Raheemís floor, police found blood in the cracks between the floorboards, indicating that blood had been mopped or wiped from the floor of Raheemís bedroom, according to one of the BPD criminalists who worked on this case, Elizabeth Ziolkowski. It appeared likely to detectives, as they later testified, that the body had been moved from Raheemís bedroom to Hillís, and that an attempt to erase the trail had been started but aborted.

The afternoon of the murder, when Detective Coleman formally questioned Raheem at BPD headquarters, he asked the young man whether he owned a gun. He did ó a licensed and registered .380 Bernadelli, for which he had a permit. He had purchased it to train for the Army and kept it hidden in a slit cut into his mattress. ADA Lee told the Phoenix that initially the detectives "couldnít believe their luck" that Raheem had made it so easy for them by leaving what they assumed was the murder weapon at the scene. The police collected the gun from Raheemís bedroom, but it was not the murder weapon; ballistics tests later proved that the gun had not been fired in at least a month. Crime-scene investigators, of course, didnít know that at the time.

Just hours after police detectives arrived at the murder scene, they began to build their case against Raheem.

Toward that end, Coleman asked Raheem to detail exactly which rooms of the apartment he did and did not enter while waiting for the police. The one room Raheem claimed not to have entered was the bathroom.

So, Coleman told crime-lab personnel to focus on the bathroom. When they went into the apartment the next morning to collect evidence, they dusted for fingerprints on "the toilet tank, seat, bowl, ... sink," and the bathtub area, according to the report of latent-print examiner Sharon Wong. Ziolkowski also reported testing for blood traces throughout the bathroom. They could find no evidence of Raheemís presence in the bathroom, except for a set of bloody shoe prints that the prosecution claimed came from his sneakers. (That claim, this story will show, is questionable.)

Moreover, investigatorsí painstaking efforts in the bathroom stand in contrast to what they did and did not do elsewhere in the apartment. Wong did not look for fingerprints anywhere else, except on the bloodstained wall of Raheemís bedroom and the lid of the clothes-washing machine in the kitchen. Remarkably, crime-lab investigators didnít even look for such forensic evidence in Bessie Hillís room, where the body was found.

"Thatís hard to understand," says Charles Kuhn, a former senior criminalist for the Massachusetts State Police who agreed to review crime-scene photographs for the Phoenix and give an independent assessment of the case.

In Kuhnís view, a great deal of useful physical evidence near the body was not collected, perhaps including DNA, hair, fibers, and fingerprints that may have been left behind on the floors, wall, and open window above the body ó surfaces that were all smeared with blood, according to police videotapes of the crime scene.

Also extremely puzzling was the way police treated a house key at the scene. Several crime-scene photographs capture it sitting on the bloody window ledge directly above the body. Yet after photographing it, police did not collect it or test it in the doors. Then at trial, they emphasized that nobody other than Raheem had access to the house, while saying nothing about the key they photographed. (The key on the window was not Raheemís, which was found elsewhere at the scene.)

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Issue Date: April 1 - 7, 2005
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