Thursday, Jan. 4, 2007

Estranged husband charged in slaying of Burtonsville woman

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The estranged husband of a Burtonsville woman found dead Monday has been charged with first-degree murder and will be held without bond in the Montgomery County Detention Center.

Kelechi C. Emeruwa, 41, was charged in connection with the stabbing death of Chidiebere O. Ochulo, 36, of the 4200 block of Dunwood Terrace. Court documents say Ochulo had filed for protective orders in the past against her husband, and one assault charge had been filed against him.

After an all-day search Monday by police, Emeruwa was arrested about 6:15 p.m. in Olney after his car was spotted by a resident and police began a pursuit that ended when Emeruwa rammed several cruisers, Montgomery County Police reported.

The couple’s three children — two boys, ages 4 and 8, and a girl, age 6 — were found in the car with him. The children and Emeruwa suffered minor injuries after the incident, said Alex Foster, an assistant state’s attorney, at Tuesday’s bond hearing. The three children will be cared for by the county’s Child Protective Services until they can be placed with family members, police said.

Emeruwa appeared via closed-circuit television for the hearing in Montgomery County District Court in Rockville. He stood quietly with his hands crossed on a podium, only speaking when asked by Judge Stephen P. Johnson for his name and if he understood the charges against him.

Johnson upheld prosecutors’ request to hold Emeruwa without bond and ordered him to surrender his Nigerian passport.

Ikenna I. Emeruwa, Kelechi’s brother and Ochulo’s brother-in-law, called police about 2:30 a.m. Monday when he arrived at Ochulo’s house and found her dead, according to an account of the incident filed by county police as part of court charging documents.

County police and fire and rescue workers found Ochulo lying on the floor of a lower-level bathroom with stab wounds on her upper chest and back, the charging documents state.

Family members told police the couple’s latest dispute began Sunday afternoon when Emeruwa met Ochulo at Dulles International Airport upon her return from a three-week trip to Nigeria, the charging documents state. Ochulo, who is separated from Emeruwa, was upset with Emeruwa because he was driving her car, a blue Honda Civic, the charging documents said.

At 11:30 p.m. Sunday, members of Emeruwa’s family arrived at Ochulo’s house because Emeruwa’s mother was watching the couple’s children while Ochulo was away. Emeruwa met his family outside and refused to allow them in the house, saying he was taking the children out and that Ochulo was sleeping, the charging documents state.

Other members of Emeruwa’s family were contacted, and one of them called police about 11:30 p.m. asking that they check on Ochulo’s welfare. Officers arrived several minutes later, but left when no one answered the door, according to the documents. They did notice Ochulo’s car was not in its parking space. Family members eventually went to the home and found Ochulo’s body.

On Monday, an Amber Alert — a nationwide system designed to help authorities track down critical missing children — was put out for the couple’s children that included information about Ochulo’s Civic. At 6:15 p.m., police received a tip about a car matching the description driving erratically in the area of Georgia Avenue and Prince Phillip Drive.

The car rammed several police cars before coming to rest at the dead end of Viburnum Way, police said. Foster said police had to fire a shot at the car’s tire and rammed the Civic before it came to rest.

Emeruwa’s family members were initially concerned for Ochulo because of prior problems between the couple. Ochulo had filed domestic violence complaints in Prince George’s County and had called police to her house when Emeruwa was abusive toward her, the charging documents state.

In January 2006, Emeruwa, of Hyattsville, was charged with second-degree assault for allegedly head-butting Ochulo twice in the lip, according to court documents filed in Prince George’s County.

Protective orders were filed on three separate instances leading up to that assault charge, according to documents from the District Court of Maryland’s civil system case history information.

A preliminary hearing in the case is set for Jan. 26.

Staff Writer Agnes Jasinski contributed to this story.