A Savage Story

Suburbia is not immune to the ugliest crimes, like this mother's death in a carjacking

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FOR A WEEK PAMELA BASU WORRIED about how well her 22-month-old daughter Sarina would adjust to her first day at school. Basu told her supervisor she might be late to work that day, but not to fret: she would just need a little extra time to comfort her daughter and ease the separation. When the day arrived, Basu secured her daughter in the car seat, climbed behind the wheel of her pale gold BMW and drove off, edging to a halt at a nearby stop sign. At that moment, the peaceful town of Savage, Maryland, lost the irony of its name.

Two strangers appeared at her window, forced her out of the car and sped off. Basu, her left arm still helplessly tangled in the harness strap of her seat belt, was dragged facedown across the coarse pavement until there was nothing left of her clothes but the bloodstained blouse on her back.

, Three-quarters of a mile away, Marianne Pfeiffer, the principal at Forest Ridge Elementary School, was waiting to help tardy students cross the street. She stared in horror as the BMW raced through the school crossing, Basu's battered body dangool; the mere mention of Maryland's death penalty by a police spokesman brought tumultuous applause.

Next door, in the nation's capital, the police chief resigned in tears the same day, having failed to bring down a murder rate that has claimed more than 2,000 lives in the past five years. In a brutalized city, where those who can afford it escape the inner city each night to suburban safety, the cold- blooded slaying of Basu touched nerves long numbed by statistics, destroying any notion that only a life of vice could lead to such a death. Pamela Basu, 34, was an award-winning research chemist with W.R. Grace & Co. The Indian-born scientist is described by colleagues as a vibrant and outspoken intellectual who doted on her daughter. They recall the endless obstacles she and her husband Biswanath overcame to adopt the little girl named Sarina.

Following the tragedy came the revelations of how the justice system had failed. One of the suspects, Rodney Eugene Solomon, has a history of violence and drugs. A week earlier, Solomon, 26, had been released from a District of Columbia jail where he was being held on charges of distributing heroin. Solomon's next arrest, this time for Basu's murder, triggered a round of finger pointing between federal prosecutors and D.C. Superior Court Judge Reggie B. Walton. Each side blamed the other for failing to keep Solomon behind bars despite fears that he was a danger to the community. Walton, ironically, is a get-tough judge and a former prosecutor who served last year as the White House's chief adviser on crime. Before that he was an associate director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under drug czar William Bennett.

Howard County police have vowed that the two suspects, Solomon and 16-year- old Bernard Eric Miller, will pay for the countywide crime spree. "The suspects expressed no remorse, I can tell you that," said Lieut. Daniel Davis. As Solomon was being booked for first-degree murder, robbery and kidnapping, he muttered to himself and blew kisses at a female officer. For their protection, they were held in solitary cells, where late last week Solomon was found with bed sheets tied around his neck. Jail officials were uncertain whether it was a bungled suicide attempt or an effort to get ^ transferred to a hospital, from which escape would be easier.

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