Murder in the Village
With no witnesses and little evidence, the mystery of Carl Diener’s death seemed impossible to solve. But Arlington Detective Rosa Ortiz never gave up.
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After six months, police still had no viable leads.
“That was the most frustrating part of the investigation,” Ortiz recalls. “You’re looking everywhere for information. We had to start with Carl and he was just such an outstanding citizen. Nobody wanted to personally hurt him.”
So who did?
On Dec. 29, 2010, the first anniversary of Diener’s death, Ortiz and dozens of officers canvassed the crime scene area once more—this time handing out fliers to motorists and knocking on doors—as a group of Diener’s friends held a candlelight vigil where their friend had drawn his last breath.
It was a vexing time for Ortiz, compounded by the fact that she suffered a terrible personal loss that same day. Upon learning of her father’s passing, she flew to Puerto Rico for his funeral, but her stay was brief. She had a case to solve, and decided her own grief would have to wait.
Returning to Arlington six days later, Ortiz felt somewhat defeated. She still didn’t have much evidence to build a case around. “There were people who saw some things, heard some things, but really there was not an eyewitness of the actual incident,” she says. “And the video that we had did not actually cover the [area] where he was…attacked. But at the end you don’t give up on cases.”
On top of that, a tip that had been sent to police three months earlier proved to be a dead end. While it resulted in six arrests and convictions (she won’t discuss specifics), there was no connection to the Diener murder.
Still, investigating the other crime did have one key takeaway for Ortiz: It provided more insight into the criminal mind—specifically, how perpetrators think when they are premeditating a robbery.
“When people are planning to rob someone, they know that they’re looking for somebody to rob,” she explains. “When they find their target, their adrenaline is rushing. They get excited and nervous because of what they’re going to do. When they do this, their heart rate goes up, they start sweating.”
Sweat carries skin cells. Skin cells carry DNA. And that DNA can be cross-referenced with DNA samples collected from previous arrestees.
She remembered Diener’s pockets. “I knew they had gone in his pockets, because his pockets were turned out,” Ortiz says.
On a cold winter day, a suspect may have worn gloves, she thought. But then again, maybe not, if he or she was riding in a car with the plan of getting in and out of the vehicle quickly. It was a hunch she had to pursue.
Ortiz called the DNA lab that had first handled the Diener evidence. They still had the victim’s pants.
“I consider myself a pushy person,” she says. “I really wanted to see the results. At this point...after you exhaust everything, we had to do this.”
On March 24, 2011, she got a call from the lab. DNA taken from Diener’s pockets matched a DNA sample stemming from a 2009 assault-and-robbery arrest in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.
“That’s when I first heard about Roger Clark III,” Ortiz says.
At the time, Clark, was attending Allegany College in Cumberland, Maryland. Tall and lanky with soft brown eyes, the baby-faced 20-year-old was known to friends as “Slim.” He had a girlfriend studying a dozen miles down the road at Frostburg State University, where he was known by local police, having been arrested for underage drinking, disorderly conduct and attempted burglary.
When school let out in May, Clark returned to D.C., where he lived in a 16th Street Heights house with his father, Roger Clark Jr., a municipal finance attorney.
But Ortiz didn’t rush out to arrest Clark. Treating the DNA match as a mere starting point, she spent the next few months building a profile on Clark to verify, with certainty, that he was a viable suspect. She learned his routine and—after obtaining access to cellphone records—who he called most often.
“Once we had a name, we had to proceed carefully,” she explains. “I don’t want to run and arrest somebody and then he comes and tells me he used to hang out with Carl and play racquetball on the weekend. We needed to do our homework.”
After confirming that there was no connection between Clark and Diener, other than the DNA found in Diener’s pockets, Ortiz procured a warrant for Clark’s arrest.
On June 6, 2011, Clark was arrested and brought in for questioning.
“For me, it was a sense of relief,” says Ortiz. “I remember right before I went to interview him…it was peaceful. It’s hard to explain how. Prior to that, you get nervous, you get worried, you think 20,000 things. You try to be positive and make sure nothing goes wrong.”
Her serenity was short-lived.
Ortiz and Detective Kevin Norwood interrogated Clark off and on over a seven-hour period, during which Clark’s recap of what had happened on Dec. 29, 2009, seemed to change with each passing hour.
At first, he denied having any knowledge of the crime.
Once presented with the DNA evidence, however, he changed his tune. He told detectives that a friend of his—a woman named Diamond—had gotten him a ride home from a party in Southeast D.C. with someone she knew—a tall guy who went by “G.” Clark said he’d passed out in the backseat of G’s car only to wake up and see G—whom he had just met—assaulting Diener. Moments later, Clark said, a second passenger, a “short guy,” got out of the car and stabbed Diener.
Clark claimed to have searched Diener’s pockets only because he was forced to by the attackers. “I wish I could have stopped this,” he told police. “I wish I could have done more to help him.”
Upon further questioning, Clark identified the “short guy” as his cousin Javon Martin.
The name wasn’t new to Ortiz. She had previously noted Martin as a person of interest after cellphone records confirmed Martin to be one of Clark’s most frequent contacts.
After naming his relative, however, Clark revised his previous statement. He now named “G” as the stabber, not Martin. “I’ll put it on my own mother that Javon did not stab him,” Clark told the investigators.
Despite these inconsistencies, Ortiz knew Clark was at least partially telling the truth. In describing the attack on Diener, Clark mentioned facts he could not have made up—such as the appointment reminder card from a neurologist’s office that the assailants had found in Diener’s gym bag.
Ortiz had already been told by Diener’s friends that Diener always walked to the gym with a bag. She also knew that Diener had epilepsy.
“We weren’t 100 percent on whether or not it was actually a robbery until Roger starts talking about what they did and what they took,” she says.
Javon Martin was arrested two days later, on June 8, 2011.
Compared to Clark, Martin was significantly less forthcoming. Standing 5 feet 7 inches with dreadlocks nearly to his shoulders and two teardrops tattooed under his left eye (Ortiz believes each signifies the loss of a loved one), he didn’t seem to share his cousin’s sense of distress.
Whereas Clark had been soft-spoken and respectful, Martin, then 24, was cocky, with a blatant disregard for the gravity of the situation.
He denied having been at the crime scene, even before detectives mentioned the day of the incident. And unlike Clark, who had been visibly disconcerted when detectives showed him photos of Diener’s body, Martin was unmoved.
“He’s cold,” says Ortiz. “He’s a cold-blooded killer. He had no problems. He looked at the pictures and he didn’t really care. He’s seen dead bodies before. Total disregard for humanity.”
After a few minutes of interrogation, Martin refused to speak further without a lawyer.
In early October 2011, charges against Martin were dropped and he was released. There wasn’t enough solid evidence to connect him to the crime. Though police had collected more than half a dozen knives and reviewed those found in other crime scenes, the murder weapon had not been found.
Furthermore, portions of Clark’s statements didn’t hold up. For starters, “G” and “Diamond” didn’t exist. Martin—who was serving a year of probation for drug possession in D.C.—continued to be monitored by police, but it was up to Ortiz to find more proof.
Meanwhile, Martin moved on with his life, in a manner of speaking.
An aspiring rap star who went by the stage name “Microphone Legend” (“ML”), he recorded a video featuring two new songs. The subject matter was eerily familiar.