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July 28, 2005 Thursday SOONER EDITION

LOCAL, Pg.A-1

876 words

FINGERPRINT SNAFU LETS WANTED MAN WALK AWAY

JONATHAN D. SILVER, PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE

When Pittsburgh police arrested a man Saturday on minor charges, they had no idea he was a homicide suspect who had been on the run from Detroit for months. He lied about his name, his age and his Social Security number, authorities said.

Nearly 12 hours later, the lies remained intact even though the suspect underwent a standard identification process meant to defeat such trickery. Local authorities ended up none the wiser that James Wroe, who was in custody, was really Dana Kennedy.

Based on a recommendation from the Allegheny County Bail Agency, which could not turn up a criminal record for Wroe, a district judge released him on his own recognizance. He walked out of the Pittsburgh Municipal Courts Building, Downtown, a free man, and became, once again, Dana Kennedy, a fugitive from Detroit police and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Yesterday, authorities still could not explain how Kennedy managed to bamboozle 21st-century technology with a simple lie and false documents. He even managed to evade detection by fingerprints, the unique identifier that has become a standard crime-fighting tool.

The Allegheny County police Central Identification Section, which is responsible for fingerprinting arrestees, said Wroe's prints were submitted to a national criminal records database run by the FBI.

"Basically, there was no response from the FBI matching his prints to the prints that were on file for Dana Kennedy," David Hungerman, the center's coordinator said yesterday. "We never received an electronic transmission telling us he was wanted."

The FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg, W.Va., denies that. The division's assistant director, Thomas E. Bush III, confirmed that a request came from Pittsburgh to run Wroe's fingerprints at 11:28 a.m. on Saturday.

Bush said the agency quickly determined that Wroe was actually Kennedy and transmitted that information at 11:58 a.m. to Pittsburgh, Detroit police and U.S. marshals in Michigan.

Whether that information was received and how it was handled on the other end, however, is not something within the FBI's purview, according to Bush.

" "I can't speak to what they did. Our system did exactly what it's supposed to do," Bush said.

At 3:40 p.m. -- nearly four hours after the FBI said it informed Pittsburgh it had a wanted homicide suspect in custody -- Wroe was arraigned and released. District Judge Donald Presutti was handling arraignments at the time but said yesterday he had no recollection of the case.

The U.S. marshals' Greater Pittsburgh Fugitive Task Force was mobilized Tuesday to search for Kennedy, who is believed to have family in the East End. They hit several houses yesterday, showed Kennedy's picture and learned that he had been seen in the past week, said Michael Baughman, supervisory deputy U.S. marshal for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

It could not be determined yesterday whether Detroit police or U.S. marshals in Michigan received the FBI's information and, if so, why neither agency contacted Pittsburgh police.

Detroit police said Kennedy is wanted for a Feb. 1 drive-by homicide outside a liquor store on the city's West Side. Two others were wounded in the incident.

Kennedy and Pittsburgh police crossed paths Saturday about 4 a.m. in Homewood. Officers in the area heard shots coming from inside a storefront speakeasy in the 7300 block of Frankstown Avenue.

As officers made contact with people emerging from the building, they found suspected marijuana in a plastic bag on a person who identified himself as James Wroe. The man produced a birth certificate with Wroe's name, and carried a West Virginia driver's license.

Officers told the man to stay on the ground, but he ignored their commands and stood up, according to a police affidavit. After a struggle, he was subdued with a Taser stun gun. He was checked at a hospital and then booked.

When Kennedy arrived at the county identification section, the staff first entered the name of James Wroe, along with identifying information into the National Crime Information Center database maintained by the FBI. No information came back.

The next step was to take a set of fingerprints and electronically transmit them to the fingerprint database.

Hungerman was not willing to accept the FBI's version of events, particularly Bush's statement that three agencies were notified of Kennedy's identity.

"Then how come we didn't get it and how come the marshals and how come Detroit didn't call us the same day?" he asked. "Then somebody's lying to you. And I'm going to tell you, he's [Bush] lying to you. You think us, Detroit and the marshals, all three of us, couldn't find out that information?"

Hungerman did not learn of the problem until contacted Tuesday by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He said by then that any electronic records of the attempts to identify Wroe would have been erased from his system.

"What happened? I mean I can't answer you. Do I think anybody is going to step up to the plate and admit this? No," Hungerman said. "It is our job to make sure we identify everybody and they don't slip through our system. This does concern us because we don't like to see people let go."

Jonathan D. Silver can be reached at [email protected] or 412-263-1962.

July 28, 2005
 
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