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Gun match reported in Markoff case

Accused killer is placed on suicide watch

April 24, 2009

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Maria Cramer, Donovan Slack, and Jonathan Saltzman of the Globe staff reported this article. It was written by Saltzman.

Investigators have made a preliminary match between the semiautomatic gun found in Philip Markoff's apartment and the weapon used to kill Julissa Brisman at the Copley Marriott April 14, multiple law enforcement officials said yesterday, a potentially damaging development in the case against the 23-year-old defendant, who has been placed on suicide watch at the Nashua Street Jail.

Officials also told the Globe that fingerprints found on the plastic restraints and duct tape left at a crime scene matched Markoff's fingerprints.

Markoff, the Boston University medical student accused of being the Craigslist killer, was examined by medical staff at the jail and placed in a special cell with a camera trained on him after a correction officer saw marks on his neck that suggested he had tried to use shoelaces to hang himself, said another law enforcement official who requested anonymity because the source is not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Spokesmen for Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea J. Cabral, who runs the jail, did not return repeated calls seeking comment.

Markoff's lawyer, John Salsberg of Boston, said he had not been informed of a preliminary match on the gun or fingerprints and declined to comment further. He refused to say whether his client had tried to kill himself or confirm that Markoff had been placed on a suicide watch. But he said he was "very concerned about Philip."

"It's difficult for anybody to go from a life of freedom to being detained, particularly in the first few days," said Salsberg, whose client has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail. "And I have confidence that the Sheriff's Department of Suffolk County will be sure to see that he is well cared for while he's in their custody."

Another prominent Boston defense lawyer - Jeffrey A. Denner, who is representing another high-profile criminal detainee at the jail, the man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller - said it is often prudent to place defendants under a suicide watch immediately if it is their first encounter with the law and they have been accused of a violent crime.

"It's not a huge leap of imagination that - given who he was, the life he had, and the life he was arguably about to lose - that he might be somebody you'd want to take a good close look at because he might be at risk for hurting himself," said Denner, who is not involved in Markoff's case. "But this is often a very hard call, and it's not very clear what the right thing to do is."

But Leslie Walker, executive director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, said that unless a detainee indicates he might harm himself or correction officers suspect he will, it would violate his constitutional rights to immediately place him on a suicide watch. Such detainees must wear a johnny and slip-on shoes and be in an empty room with nothing to read.

Markoff, who lived in Quincy, was arrested Monday in Walpole as he drove south on Interstate 95 with his fiancée, Megan McAllister, authorities said. He was arraigned Tuesday on charges of murder, kidnapping, and armed robbery in connection with attacks against two women at luxury Back Bay hotels whom he allegedly met through Craigslist, an online classified service.

Prosecutors say he fatally shot Brisman, a masseuse and aspiring model, April 14 at the Boston Marriott Copley Place hotel. (Police said Brisman was 26 at the time of her death, but according to her death certificate, she would not have turned 26 until Friday). They also say Markoff robbed a prostitute at gunpoint at the Westin Copley Place on April 10 and that he may have been motivated by a gambling problem.

Rhode Island authorities are also investigating whether he was involved in another attempted robbery of a prostitute, April 16 at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites in Warwick. She had also advertised on Craigslist.

The Globe reported yesterday that officers had found underwear belonging to two victims in Markoff's Quincy apartment, as well as a semiautomatic handgun, hidden in a hollowed-out copy of Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body.

Preliminary results indicate the gun was probably used to kill Brisman, according to three sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to comment on the case. Fingerprints on the duct tape and plastic restraints found at the crime scenes also appear to be a match.

Yesterday, McAllister's father, Jim McAllister, said his daughter has been devastated by the murder and robbery allegations.

Speaking to reporters outside the family's home in Little Silver, N.J., McAllister briefly addressed how his daughter was holding up.

"As expected, not well," he said in a soft voice, according to video footage of the interview. "She's still confident in Phil. Other than that, we are saying a lot of prayers."

Asked whether his daughter had any idea about Markoff's alleged double life, Jim McAllister shook his head. "Absolutely not," he said, before walking away from the microphones, according to video footage.

The crimes Markoff was accused of involved a popular online classified ad service, and now aspects of the investigation and criminal case are playing out on the Internet.

Suffolk law enforcement officials posted an item on the "adult gigs" section of Craigslist yesterday, asking people who have stayed at Boston area hotels, "Were you robbed after using Craigslist?"

"If so, you may have information that could be helpful to police and prosecutors investigating the April 10 armed robbery of a woman at the Westin Copley Place hotel and the April 14 murder of a woman at the Marriott Copley Place Hotel," the ad said.

The ad said that investigators believed that both women were attacked by a man "targeting female Craigslist advertisers who would be reluctant to report the crimes." The ad did not name Markoff.

Meanwhile, supporters of Markoff have set up a group on the social networking website Facebook, titled "Phil Markoff is Innocent Until Proven Guilty."

The group, which had 159 members by last night, says its aim is to rally people "against the media who is quick to place blame, against the culture that has forgotten that people like Phil are suspects, not killers."

Megan Woolhouse and Andrew Ryan of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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