A Friendship, A Murder, A Mystery – By Neely Tucker ( Washington Post)

May 3rd, 2009 Print Print Email Email

Sometimes a mystery stays a mystery and then we worry there are things we don’t know about ourselves, dangerous things. (more…)

Sometimes a mystery stays a mystery and then we worry there are things we don’t know about ourselves, dangerous things.

Nothing that happened in D.C. Superior Court yesterday changed that.

Abiy Bezabih and Adane Kebede had been childhood friends in the same village in Ethiopia. Both were in their 50s. Both had emigrated to the United States and worked at low-paying jobs: Kebede as a security guard in Oakland, Calif., Bezabih as a parking-lot attendant in Georgetown. Neither had a criminal record. They had not seen each other in three decades.

Then, on Dec. 15, 2006, Kebede flew from California to D.C. to visit Bezabih, along with a mutual friend. Three days later, the trio met across the street from the Dukem Restaurant in the 1100 block of U Street NW, 3 in the afternoon, the street full of people.

Bezabih, delighted, gave his old friend a hug.

Kebede accepted the embrace, put a 9mm pistol to Bezabih’s jugular, and shot him through the neck. A witness told police he then put his arms around the dying man and eased him to the ground.

“I don’t know what got into me,” Kebede — short, balding, rasping — told Judge Frederick H. Weisberg yesterday, during a sentencing hearing that came a couple of months after his guilty plea to a charge of murder.

Weisberg said he didn’t really know, either, and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.

A lot of people kill each other in the District. Weisberg noted that his court calendar alone had about 50 homicide cases at various stages of the legal process. People tend to want to find a reason for these things. It helps give life a certain sense of order, which leads to a certain sense of safety, based on the belief that the title “human being” is a compliment, despite long historical evidence to the contrary.

The fact is, as Weisberg’s calendar attests, that people often kill people, because that is what people do.

Bezabih was, by all accounts, an unlikely victim. He was a former police officer and insurance agent in Ethiopia. He had received asylum in the United States in 2003 and taken a basic job, making $19,000 a year, in order to start life over. Scrimping and saving, he managed to bring his wife and son to the area the summer before he was killed.

Yesterday, underneath the drab fluorescent lighting of the courthouse, almost everyone had some sort of answer for what Kebede did, a little raft of reason to cling to.

“A certain jealousness,” said the dead man’s wife, Tadesu Woldemarium. “I think this friend told Kebede my husband was doing well, he had this nice life, and he became very jealous.”

“A political hit, absolutely,” said Chris Delia, a software developer who had regularly parked his car in Bezabih’s garage and struck up a friendship with him. “He had been a union leader back in Ethiopia. He had political asylum here. He’d told me that friends of his had mentioned, in the weeks before he was killed, that government people had been asking where he was.”

“Dementia,” Kebede’s lawyer, Anna Van Cleve, told Weisberg. She noted Kebede initially had been found mentally incompetent to stand trial by psychiatrists, that he was still on a regimen of antidepressants, and had a history of physical and mental worries.

Weisberg rejected that. He said that while Kebede had medical issues, he had told doctors different stories about what happened. He said Kebede had lied about his mental condition in an attempt to throw off psychiatrists.

“That’s deliberate manipulation . . . not a florid mental illness,” Weisberg said from the bench.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Snyder told the judge that, at first, he had agreed with the assassination theory.

“A mild-mannered man could not have done this on his own,” Snyder said, summing up the initial assessments of police and prosecutors. Kebede, who made about $12,000 per year, had $3,900 with him when arrested. Bezabih had been given asylum. Something didn’t look right.

Snyder said the authorities launched an investigation that stretched from here to Ethiopia. “We thought ‘there has to be something . . .’ but nothing ever came of it. Nothing.” He also noted that Kebede had told a variety of stories about his actions: that the shooting was about an old debt, about an ancient grievance from the homeland, and then there would be another story.

Snyder’s final summation: “It is utterly inexplicable.”

Markos, Bezabih’s 13-year-old son, walked into the well of the court, stood by the microphone and tried to tell the judge about his father.

“He was a pretty cool dad,” he said. He looked down and bit his lip, then turned suddenly. “Mom, could I have a tissue?”

The hearing concluded. About 50 family members and friends filed into the hallway, talking in small huddles, lost in the bustling courthouse. There were more theories and questions. Sometimes life doesn’t give answers. It gives actions, and the answers are our own.

Comments are closed.