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Test of Strength


It was Tracy Thorne-Begland, one of Herring's new deputy commonwealth's attorneys, telling him that there had been a multiple homicide in Woodland Heights. Herring's first thought was "multiple means more than two." His second response wasn't fit for print.

Thorne-Begland dialed up Herring's chief deputy, Matt Geary. Meanwhile, veteran murder prosecutor Learned Barry — the first prosecutor police customarily call under such circumstances — was already on his way.

Far in the city's West End, Geary was starting the first day of 2006 sorting through DVDs to find one that would entertain most, if not all, of his five children. In two days, he would officially begin his first day as a prosecutor. Geary had spent 10 years on the other side of the courtroom, defending the kind of people he would be putting in jail in his new job. He was still making the transition in his head when Thorne-Begland phoned.

Neither Herring, elected in November, nor his chief deputy had even been sworn in. Herring was concerned that he might not even have the authority to be on the scene. "Matt and I talked," Herring said of Geary. "He said, 'You're the elected commonwealth's attorney.'" And that was that. According to Barry, no chief commonwealth's attorney had ever shown up at a murder scene. None of the three — not even veteran Barry — was prepared for what they found when they got there.

It was a ghastly scene, the young family of four in their basement, bound and slain. Firefighters were rolling up hoses, carefully clearing the inner perimeter for the forensics team coming in. Neighbors were beginning to mill about at the outside perimeter of the serene, tree-lined streets. It was a neighborhood, in Herring's mind, reminiscent of "Leave It to Beaver."

What was inside the house, of course, was anything but. "I was most struck by the notion that this was a family. And there were kids," Herring said. "None of the details inside were anything but shuddering. It was like one shock wave after another." Herring resisted the compulsion to call home. "I just wanted to be with my children," he said.

"Me, too," Geary added. Both felt out of their depth. "We were glad Learned was there," he said.

None of the prosecutors remembers when the next call came in. They'd lost track of time, and hours can seem like minutes and minutes like hours in the midst of such catastrophe. Two more people had been found murdered in a home on Terminal Boulevard — Lewis A. Casper and his daughter, Roicana. As Herring and Geary were being briefed on the latest developments, detectives were being redeployed to split resources between the crime scenes.

For everyone there that day, Jan. 1 will never be the same. "It wasn't supposed to begin this way," was all Geary could say.

The young commonwealth's attorney and Richmond Police Chief Rodney Monroe — less than a year on the job himself — addressed the crowd that gathered in front of the home three days later in a vigil for the Harveys.

"I want an answer!" Herring exclaimed. He asked for the public's patience and extolled the work of investigators. "They're your police department," he said. "We're going to be responsive in the way we release information."

And careful. They pledged to remain tight-lipped about developments in the case until they had something significant to report. That's the way it played out through the week, as they questioned friends and family members. The community was fueled with speculation; one couple said they'd been stopped by a search team at a local park. Experts were all but assured the crime couldn't have been random.

By the end of the week, a tragedy had led to a break in the case. Percyell Tucker, his wife, Mary Baskerville Tucker, and their daughter, Ashley Baskerville, were found dead in their South Side home, in a killing similar to that of the Harveys. Their car, which had been stolen, led police to Ray Joseph Dandridge and his uncle, Ricky "Cooley" Javon Gray, in Philadelphia. The men were arrested, charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the slayings of the Harvey and Tucker-Baskerville families.

With that development came some answers and more questions. But by the end of the weekend, the young prosecutors and a weary police force had little to say.

Associate editor Brandon Walters and editor Jason Roop contributed to this story.

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