It was Aug. 31, a little after 1 a.m. Hattie Purefoy, a New York woman in Washington for a religious crusade, was standing at the bus stop at Bladensburg Road and Morse Street NE waiting to transfer to the B2 bus.
Without warning, a man came up from behind and stabbed her twice in the back. He next went around front, started stabbing her in the chest, and said, "Give me your money. Give me your money." He knocked her to the ground, snatched the plastic shopping bag she was carrying, which contained her purse as well as identification, and took off running in the direction of Maryland Avenue.
It was a horrible welcome to Washington for a woman in search of religious uplifting. She may have found spiritual fulfillment during her visit, but physically speaking, she ended up with multiple stab wounds, including a collapsed lung and a laceration dangerously near her heart. She was eventually transported to the MedStar unit at Washington Hospital Center, but not before some heroic citizens and police sprang into action.
A motorist in a van at the traffic light in front of the bus stop observed what happened. He got out, helped Ms. Purefoy into his van and followed the assailant up the street shouting, "We're going to get you." The motorist, however, then wisely decided instead to drive Ms. Purefoy to the nearby Hechinger Mall and notified a security officer, who called police.
The van driver wasn't the only good Samaritan. Two other motorists in separate vehicles also witnessed the attack. They followed the assailant, flagged down police officers on the street, and pointed him out. The police promptly made an arrest in the 2000 block of Maryland Avenue.
The assailant was taken to the scene. Ms. Purefoy was there. She positively identified him as the person who assaulted and stabbed her. The driver of the van also identified the assailant. The two other motorists also identified him, stating that they saw the assailant struggle with Ms. Purefoy, knock her to the ground and strike her. The police took the assailant's shirt as evidence because it had fresh blood on it.
The assailant, according to court papers, was identified as Gregory Antonio Johnson, 41, of the 2100 block of M Street NE. According to a pretrial services agency report, Johnson was arrested in Mississippi in 1990 for possession of crack cocaine and received a 1999 sentence in the District for drinking in public.
Let us now proceed to Friday, the 13th of September, and the courtroom of D.C. Superior Court Associate Judge Frederick H. Weisberg.
The foregoing account of the attack and robbery was provided by William Gregory White, an 18-year veteran of the D.C. police department, during direct examination on the witness stand by Assistant U.S. Attorney Florence Pan. White, assigned to the 5th District's detective unit, participated in Johnson's arrest and interviewed Ms. Purefoy in the hospital.
The prosecution had charged Johnson with assault with intent to kill while armed and was seeking to have him indefinitely detained for trial. And why not? With three eyewitness accounts, plus that of Ms. Purefoy, why wouldn't the government think that there was probable cause that Johnson committed assault with intent to kill while armed, and that there was clear and convincing evidence that he was dangerous and should be kept off the streets?
Judge Weisberg didn't see it that way. After the prosecution and defense counsel completed their examinations of White, the judge took over:
"Did [Ms. Purefoy] or any other witness describe to you the stabbing motion of how the weapon was used to stab the victim, whether it was slashing or thrusting, or any other description of that kind?" White repeated how the attack took place. Weisberg said: "You're telling me where she was stabbed, but I'm asking now the manner in which she was stabbed. How the knife was used. Was it overhand plunging down, underhand plunging -- thrusting up, slashing or don't you know?" White said the victim didn't say, and he didn't ask her.
After dismissing the detective from the stand, Weisberg announced that he was concerned about the charge of intent to kill while armed.
Prosecutor Pan gave it her best shot: "Your honor, we think, based on the fact that he stabbed this woman multiple times in her chest and in her stomach and in her back, shows an intent to kill her because those are areas where her vital organs are . . . and the way in which the victim's attack was conducted from behind; and then also the way -- he wasn't just trying to rob her, your honor, because he stabbed her before he even asked her for her money. And . . . he continued to stab her even afterwards."
Judge Weisberg replied: "I don't think I can find a substantial probability. Somebody wants to kill somebody, he can kill somebody. He didn't. He took her purse and ran. I agree there's a lot of stab wounds. I agree they're in pretty important parts of her body, and that's why I asked the question about the manner in which he did it; and there's no evidence on that."
Prosecutor Pan: "Your honor -- "
Judge Weisberg: "Look, there's no point having an argument about this, Ms. Pan."
Courageously, Pan gave it one more shot.
After pointing out that people are assumed to intend the ordinary result of the action they take, and that intent can be inferred from action, she said that when someone is stabbed the way Ms. Purefoy was, the "natural consequence of what he's trying to cause is the person's death. . . . Why else would he stab a person five different times? Including twice in the chest?" she asked.
Judge Weisberg: "Because he's a nasty guy and wanted to rob her. And maybe he wanted to kill her. But if he wanted to kill her, he could have and didn't. Look, this is a silly argument to have."
Pan stood her ground: "It is, your honor. But I would only point out that when somebody points a gun at somebody and shoots them . . . I believe we charge with assault with intent to kill while armed, the same way. Because they are responsible for their actions. We consider this in the same way when somebody stabs somebody in the chest."
You go, Ms. Pan!
She didn't win. Judge Weisberg announced that he couldn't find "substantial probability" that Johnson committed that offense because his intent was not shown very clearly on the evidence presented. A D.C. court of appeals decision guided the judge's ruling. He said he would "order [Johnson] at least to a halfway house" and indicated that he was open to entertaining a lesser charge of armed robbery.
Finding themselves licked, the prosecutors returned to court last Monday and filed a new complaint of assault with a deadly weapon. Judge Weisberg accepted the complaint and ordered Johnson held without bond for 100 days on the lesser charge.
And that, Hattie Purefoy, is a taste of justice in Washington below the radar screen.