WASHINGTON – DNA from a man accused in the slayings of wealthy Washington family and their housekeeper was found on a construction vest inside a car stolen from the family's home, and a man driving the car was seen wearing a similar vest in the aftermath of the slayings, a detective testified Monday.
A judge cited the DNA and other evidence against 34-year-old Daron Wint in finding probable cause that he committed first-degree murder and ordered him held without bond pending further court proceedings. Wint is charged in the deaths of Savvas Savopoulos; his wife, Amy; their 10-year-old son, Philip; and a housekeeper, Veralicia Figueroa.
Police believe the Savopouloses and their housekeeper were held captive for 18 hours before they were slain in the early afternoon of May 14 after the delivery of a $40,000 ransom. Their mansion was then set on fire. Wint was arrested a week after the slayings.
The lead investigator on the case, Detective Jeffrey Owens, also testified Monday that, according to their autopsies, Savvas Savopoulos and Figueroa had been strangled. Police had said previously that all four victims were beaten and stabbed.
Wint was arrested in Washington while riding in a car with three other people. A box truck was being driven alongside that vehicle, and a brother of Wint was a passenger in that truck, according to testimony.
Police recovered more than $30,000 in cash and money orders from the two vehicles, including $20,000 from the truck, and Wint's brother told police that Wint had given him the money, Owens said.
No one else has been charged in the slayings, even though police have said they believe Wint did not act alone.
"It's our belief more than one person was involved because of the amount of people in the home," Owens said.
In arguing that authorities had not established probable cause, Wint's public defender, Arthur Ago, cited a lack of physical evidence linking Wint to the crime other than the DNA from the vest and from a pizza crust at the scene. Ago characterized that DNA evidence as "weak."
Ago also focused on inconsistencies in the statements of Savopoulos' assistant, who told police that he delivered the $40,000 to the house, and he suggested that police did not question the assistant aggressively enough.
The Savopouloses' elder daughter, Katerina, 19, was in the courtroom for Monday's hearing, which lasted more than four hours. She chatted amiably with prosecutors and occasionally took notes on yellow legal paper. She declined to comment after the hearing. Katerina and her 17-year-old sister were away at boarding school at the time of the slayings.
Wint wore an orange prison jumpsuit. His hands were cuffed and his legs shackled. He did not speak other than to verify his name to the judge.
Owens also testified that police found a receipt for an immigration attorney Wint hired two days after the slayings. Wint, a native of Guyana, paid a $1,100 retainer in cash, the receipt showed.
Wint had no source of income at the time of the slayings, Owens said. Wint had previously been employed as a welder, including a stint working for American Iron Works, a Maryland-based construction-materials supplier. Savvas Savopoulos was CEO of that firm.
Owens also testified that Savopoulos, a martial arts enthusiast, had a collection of samurai swords inside his house and that some of them were missing. They have not been recovered, and authorities have not found a murder weapon.
DNA testing on numerous pieces of physical evidence inside the home, including duct tape and a baseball bat, has not been completed, Owens said.
A witness told police that he saw a man driving the Savopouloses' stolen Porsche erratically toward Maryland on the afternoon of the slayings, Owens said. The man was wearing a green construction vest, the detective said. The car was abandoned in Maryland and set on fire.
The witness said the driver of the car was a black man with short hair, Owens said. Wint, however, has long dreadlocks.
In addition to Wint, authorities found DNA from Savvas Savopoulos and another, unknown person on the construction vest, Owens said. Similar vests were found in the home, he said.