Kevin Sutherland murderer indicted

Justice for the murder of Trumbull native Kevin Sutherland, who was slain in Washington, D.C., last July, will have to wait — potentially until the end of 2017.

That was the unfortunate result of a grand jury indictment hearing last Tuesday, May 10, in Washington and an arraignment for Sutherland’s murderer, Jasper Spires, last Friday, May 13.

U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips announced last week that Spires, 19, was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder and other charges stemming from the July 4, 2015, brutal stabbing of Sutherland — a graduate of American University who left quite a mark on the school's student government.

Spires, a Washington, D.C., native who was 18 years old at the time of the incident, rejected a plea deal on April 8 that would have resulted in a 30-year sentence with no probation.

“The plea deal was offered to him in March and it would have taken off all the other charges — there were seven in total,” explained Douglas Sutherland, Kevin’s father, about Spires’ alleged robbery and assault on the city’s Red Line train as it was approaching the NoMa-Gallaudet University station, in the 200 block of Florida Avenue NE.

“Now that the plea has been rejected, all those charges are back on the table,” he told The Times Tuesday afternoon. “They were taken off to sweeten the deal for a guilty plea, which would have been only one count of murder.”

Sutherland and his wife, Theresa, told The Times that they were satisfied with the terms of the plea deal after working with prosecutors Katherine Rakoczy and Christine Macey.

If convicted when the case finally goes to trial, Spires could serve up to life in prison; however, the Sutherlands believe the plea was equally beneficial for both parties and was the prefered resolution.

“The first and main benefit is that it would have ended the situation sooner,” Doug said. “Secondly, if it goes to trial and he is in fact convicted, there’s no guarantee he will ever plead guilty or admit to doing it. And, lastly, if the plea is accepted, there’s no trial and therefore no chance he could ever appeal the charges.”

“The advantage for us is we avoid a long, drawn-out trial,” Theresa added. “The advantage for him is that he admits guilt — he admits responsibility for the crime he committed — and he can move in the right direction with his life. He’s not admitting to doing anything wrong, and he’s showing no remorse, and that’s making it even harder on us.”

Two counts of first-degree murder

Judge Robert Morin oversaw the proceedings last week in Washington, D.C., Superior Court.

Thirteen of Kevin's friends from American University attended the hearing with the Sutherland family, along with Congressman Jim Himes and two of his staff members who had worked with Kevin — Rachel Kelly and Mark Henson.

“The defendant was read the charges against him — seven in all,” Doug said of Friday’s arraignment. “In layman’s terms, they are two counts of first-degree murder. One is premeditated murder and the other was murder while in the commission of a felony (robbery).

“The second charge covers the situation where the jury isn’t convinced that he went onto the car with the intent to kill someone,” he said. “This second charge basically says that he started to rob Kevin and then decided to kill him. This charge is just as serious.”

Spires was also charged with two counts of armed robbery for taking money at knifepoint from an elderly man and his daughter after he stabbed Kevin. Another charge was threatening a passenger with a weapon when he assaulted a man trying to call for help. The last charge was simply carrying a dangerous weapon, the knife.

The alleged murderer was arrested two days later and has remained in prison.

“All of the charged offenses were committed while on release from his attempted robbery and assault charges two days before,” Doug said. “As a result, the sentences for any convictions on any of these seven charges can be increased.”

The Sutherlands told The Times they didn’t know what else Spires was looking to get out of the trial, and that the plea deal was the best offer that would be presented to him.

They said at the arraignment last week he appeared more serious than he did in October, when it was ruled he was mentally fit to stand trial.

“The judge asked the defendant if he had understood the plea offer and if he did indeed turn it down of his own free will,” Doug said. “He calmly answered yes to each question. He was serious at this hearing but he did appear to smile at his family.”

What’s next

A trial date has not been set, but a hearing is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 9, at 11 a.m.

However, that wait will prove to be short for Kevin’s family and friends, who expect that Spires’ trial won’t actually be held until the end of 2017.

“The next part of the hearing focused on whether to set a trial date at this point,” Doug told The Times. “The prosecutor said that DNA testing was still being done and the results would not be completed until July. The defense then wanted time to assess the evidence. So they didn’t feel they could set a trial date now.

“At that time, they will assess where they are; the defense could enter a plea such as ‘innocent by reason of insanity’ and a trial date could then be set,” he added. “When we spoke to the prosecutor after the hearing, they said that the trial might not start until the end of 2017.”

The Sutherlands said Spires’ age and lack of criminal history will probably help him avoid life in prison, if convicted of the charges; however, they each said they don’t know what will come out of the trial.

“We’re hopeful that everything works out and justice is served,” Theresa said. “That’s all we can hope for at this point.”