License plate reader could be lynch pin in murder case

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BURLINGTON >> Police arrested a Vermont man in West Springfield, Mass., Wednesday for the fatal shooting on lower Church Street over the weekend.

Chavis Murphy, 24, is charged with first degree murder for the killing of Odafemi Adedapo. Murphy was arrested without incident outside a fast food restaurant, police said.

The shooting occurred at approximately 2:15 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 27, shortly after bars closed. Witnesses interviewed by police said the incident began as a "beef" between Adedapo, Murphy and others inside Zen Lounge.

The confrontation spilled onto Church Street and continued in the parking lot of Big Daddy's Pizza before the shooting, which took place outside 187 Church St.

Police recovered seven .40 caliber bullet casings from the scene, and the Chief Medical Examiner recovered four bullets that "appear" to be .40 caliber rounds from Adedapo.

Adedapo was hit four times in the back and left side. His left thumb had a graze wound "consistent with putting up hands in a defense posture," according to court documents.

Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo said it's still too early in the investigation to say with certainty what motivated the shooting, but witnesses and other people interviewed by police said the conflict was over a woman.

Del Pozo and Mayor Miro Weinberger both lauded patrol officers who ran toward gunfire and remained calm during tense moments in which onlookers pressed in on the scene and shouted epithets at police.

They also praised detectives for quickly identifying a suspect and working with other law enforcement agencies to arrest him.

At a Sunday press conference, del Pozo had indicated the shooting might be drug related. He said Adedapo had been found with crack cocaine. Court records show the drug was powder cocaine. Another person fleeing the scene allegedly discarded crack cocaine.

Adedapo had nearly 14 grams of cocaine in his anus. He also had a "baggie" of "illicit mushrooms" and $1,490 in cash in his pocket, according to police. Del Pozo said Adedapo, who is from New York, was in Burlington to sell drugs, and police have reason to believe he's made previous trips to the city for the same purpose.

In an initial statement about the shooting, the Burlington Police Department emphasized Adedapo's lengthy criminal history and ties to a Brooklyn gang, the Cashford Crips.

In a statement released Wednesday, del Pozo sought to humanize Adedapo.

"The BPD has been in contact with the victim's sister, Bukola Adedapo, and extends its condolences to her and her family," he said. "Every person, regardless of how extensive or violent his criminal record, has a family and loved ones. Hopefully this arrest and the subsequent proceedings will offer them a modicum of solace."

Del Pozo expressed frustration that people, including a city councilor, have accused him of making up the Cashford Crips connection. "I got a call from a councilors saying 'we couldn't find this gang online,' so therefore it must be made up to add gravitas, which I think is frankly ridiculous," he said.

Del Pozo said Vermont is "coming to terms" with drug trafficking and gang activity. Officials need to be very careful, though, when describing the people involved, he added.

"We're not talking about skin color, city of origin, economic class or level of education," he said. "We're talking about people with a violent history coming to Vermont" to destroy lives and make money by selling drugs.

City and state leaders have begun approaching drug addiction as a public health crisis, and, as part of that paradigm shift, law enforcement must make difficult determinations about whether a person involved in the drug trade is a user supporting a habit or a profiteer endangering the community.

Adedapo, who police say Murphy shot, has more than 12 felony arrests — police have not said how many convictions — for crimes that include aggravated assault, kidnapping and firearm violations.

In contrast, Murphy was convicted of simple assault in 2007 when he was 16, and later that year he was charged with felony sexual assault. A year later he was charged with felony lewd and lascivious conduct.

Murphy was initially convicted of both felonies, but the cases, which appear as though they were tried together, were appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court. The convictions were vacated in October and the case has been remanded to Chittenden County Superior Court. It's scheduled for a status conference Jan. 5.

Investigators found Murphy's cellphone number through a listing on the state sex offender registry. Police then located him in West Springfield where he checked into a hotel Sunday afternoon.

Bram Kranichfeld, the first deputy state's attorney, said his office expects Murphy will waive his right to an extradition hearing in Massachusetts where he is currently being held. He anticipates Murphy will be arraigned on a first degree murder charge Jan. 4.

Kranichfeld said he didn't know if Murphy would have been federally prohibited from owning a gun, but it's likely that he would not, because his felony convictions were vacated.

Police said when Murphy was arrested he did not have a weapon on him. Investigators are applying for warrants to search a rental car and the hotel room where he was staying. They also have not yet searched the Maple Street apartment where Murphy lived.

The affidavit submitted by Burlington Police Detective Thomas Nash depicts Murphy as a man on the edge. A woman who contacted police Sunday told police she had known Murphy since he was a child. She said he called her "mom" and the two talked regularly.

The woman said Murphy was depressed and suicidal and may have tried to take his own life by getting into a car crash. Insurance records obtained by police show he was in a crash Dec. 20. It appears she contacted police out of concern for his well-being.

She said one of Murphy's friends called her and told her Sunday morning that he shot someone. Murphy then called her from a private number later on, she said. The woman told police that Murphy said, "I'm going to end my life. I don't know what to do anymore."

During that same conversation he allegedly told her, "I shot the guy." When she asked if the victim was dead, he said "I don't know, I ran."

The woman told police she asked Murphy why he did it.

Witnesses, many of whom fled the scene, were largely uncooperative with investigators, but some provided information used to obtain the arrest warrant. Police were also able to use surveillance footage from local businesses.

The affidavit, filed to obtain the arrest warrant for Murphy, relies heavily on the interview with the woman who described herself as a mother figure.

But technology also played a role in the case.

In the BPD statement released Wednesday, del Pozo focused on the value of an Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR), a cruiser-mounted device, which he described as "indispensable" to the investigation.

Del Pozo recently testified in a legislative hearing against further regulation of license plate readers used by law enforcement, a policy privacy advocates favor.

A sheriff's deputy driving in the area of Sunday's shooting in a cruiser equipped with ALPR responded to the scene. Approximately three minutes after shots were fired the device logged a license plate with the image of a black BMW SUV.

The plate matched an SUV leased by Murphy placing his car "in the vicinity of the shooting and fleeing its scene in the immediate aftermath," del Pozo wrote in his statement.

"The Burlington Police Department is indebted to Sheriff Kevin McLaughlin for his deployment of this valuable investigative technology, and to the Vermont Intelligence Center for its repository of license plate reads," police said in the statement.

Close to a third of the press release describe the importance of the license plate reader. The affidavit, in contrast, doesn't mention the device.

At Wednesday's news conference del Pozo said the ALPR wasn't mentioned in the affidavit for Murphy's arrest warrant because it wasn't necessary to establish probable cause — the sole purpose of the affidavit.

However, del Pozo called the ALPR read a "linchpin" piece of evidence that could play a central role in prosecuting Murphy for Adedapo's murder.

"Forensic electronic evidence is a very powerful thing to have," he said.

Burlington Police and Zen Lounge, the Church Street night club where officers say the confrontation that led to Sunday's killing began, have engaged in a war of words following the incident.

Del Pozo said in a statement Monday that more than 60 "police incidents" have occurred there during 2015, and the lounge has a "disturbing history" of non-cooperation with police that has "little or no parallel" with other businesses in the city.

The club has repeatedly said Adedapo was not at Zen Lounge Saturday leading into Sunday.

In Facebook messages from the Zen Lounge page, the club told VTDigger "The fact that Zen was associated with the shooting with no evidence to support this statement is upsetting to us and irresponsible for anyone to release."

In an official statement provided to media, Zen Lounge owner Robert Rapatski called Sunday's violence "upsetting," but maintained that those involved were not at the club. Several people who were with Adedapo and Murphy told police both men were at Zen Lounge before the shooting.

Mayor Weinberger said Wednesday he was "concerned" about "the record" at Zen Lounge, and he is talking with the city attorney and city councilors about options for enforcement actions against the club.

City Councilor Tom Ayers said Zen Lounge will be under additional scrutiny until the company's permit is up for renewal in the first half of next year.

Morgan True is VTDigger's Burlington bureau chief covering the city and Chittenden County. He can be contacted at mtrue@vtdigger.org. Follow Morgan on Twitter @true_morgan


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