Police arrest 2 in slaying of freed jailhouse informant

AP News
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Posted: Feb 18, 2016 5:00 PM
Police arrest 2 in slaying of freed jailhouse informant

McLEAN, Va. (AP) — Two suspects were arrested Thursday and charged with murder in the death of a Virginia man who scammed banks out of more than $50 million and later testified as a jailhouse informant in a capital murder case that resulted in an early release from prison.

Prince George's County Police said robbery was the motive in the slaying of Osama El-Atari, 37, of Leesburg. El-Atari was reported missing in Loudoun County, Virginia, last week and found shot dead inside a pickup truck in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, on Saturday.

Two men, 29-year-old Eric Garris of Waldorf and 26-year-old Taqwa Muhammad of Lusby, have each been charged with murder and were being held without bond Thursday.

In a news release, police described El-Atari as the victim of a targeted robbery, saying the suspects robbed El-Atari of several items, then shot him and fled. Police gave no indication that El-Atari's death was related to his testimony as a jailhouse informant.

El-Atari, a flashy entrepreneur, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2010 for bank fraud. But he was released from prison in 2014 after testifying at the federal murder trial of Jorge Torrez, who served in the Marines. El-Atari said Torrez, his cellmate, bragged about the murder.

El-Atari owned a northern Virginia steakhouse and was connected to other restaurants. He was often seen driving Lamborghinis and other sports cars. When his fraud collapsed around him in 2009 and he faced criminal charges and lawsuits from creditors, he fled the area. He was arrested months later in Texas.

El-Atari wore a wire while he worked as a jailhouse informant against Torrez, who was convicted and sentenced to death in the murder of Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Amanda Snell. She was found stuffed in a wall locker in the northern Virginia barracks where both Torrez and Snell were housed and her death had gone unsolved for several years.

Torrez is also charged in the 2005 killings of two girls from Torrez' hometown of Zion, Illinois: 8-year-old Laura Hobbs and 9-year-old Krystal Tobias.

In a letter to the judge who ordered his early release, El-Atari wrote that Torrez "had told me about plans to eliminate witnesses in his upcoming trial and based on his past, I knew he would not hesitate to kill me, but I continued to assist anyway because I knew it was the right thing to do."

Lisa Meade, a former girlfriend of El-Atari who remained close with him and his family, said the circumstances of his death had nothing to do with his work as an informant. She said he had started a trucking company and was not mixed up anything nefarious since his release.

"The only thing Osama did wrong (after being released from prison) was text while drive," she said in a phone interview. "When Osama came home he was an open book."

She said she does not condone his past criminal conduct but expressed frustration that people focused on his criminal record without appreciating the risks he took to bring Torrez to justice.

"He didn't go into jail looking for someone to tell on," he said. "He did it because it was the right thing to do."