Jacksonville police this morning arrested a felon in Sunday’s fatal shooting of a Bhutanese refugee and learned the victim was targeted because he was an immigrant, according to a state prosecutor.
Trumaine Branch, 21, is charged with murder in the death of Hari Adhikari, 21, who was fatally shot during a robbery at the Stonemont Village Apartments in South Metro, said Assistant State Attorney Mark Caliel. Adhikari was robbed of his cellphone and wallet and was shot in the chest at point blank range as he held his hands up, family members said.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Web site indicates that Branch, of the 2400 block of West Lincoln Court, also is charged with armed robbery with a deadly weapon and possession of firearm by a convicted felon. He is scheduled to have a court appearance Friday morning.
An arrest report released this afternoon said that the homicide team, lead by detective Don Alexander, retrieved cell phone records for Adhikari’s phone and found that one call was made from the phone about an hour after the murder. Police traced the call to Branch’s girlfriend at his home.
Police contacted the girlfriend, who cooperated with investigators. Her information and clues provided by others who knew Branch led to the arrest, said Lt. Larry Schmitt, who leads the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office homicide unit.
The report said that detective Dennis Sullivan and Sgt. D.S. Coarsey spotted Branch near his home about 4 a.m. today and picked him up. He denied any knowledge of the slaying and was jailed without bail, the report said.
Court records show that Branch was convicted of auto theft in 2007 and was sentenced to a year in prison. He was released in August 2008. Branch also pleaded no contest to a trespassing charge earlier this year, for which he received a fine, and to a burglary charge in 2007, for which he got probation.
A charge of unarmed carjacking in April was dropped against Branch, but new information developed since his arrest has caused that case to be reopened, Caliel said. He declined to elaborate.
Caliel said authorities learned Adhikari was attacked because immigrants like him were seen as hard workers who were known to carry cash and made good targets to rob. A number of immigrant families from the same area in South Asia live in the apartment complex.
Adhikari, his parents and a brother were resettled in Jacksonville five months ago after spending 17 years in a Nepalese refugee camp. They are natives of Bhutan and fled that South Asian country because of political strife.
Adhikari is one of at least 19 immigrants slain in Jacksonville in the past five years, most in robberies. Two Jacksonville men were sentenced to death and life, respectively, last week in the separate slayings of two immigrants from Albania and Cuba. Both slayings occurred during robberies.
Caliel promised a vigorous prosecution in Adhikari’s slaying.
“It’s disturbing that our citizens of this nature, who work hard and struggle to bring about a new life here in the United States, are specifically being targeted,” Caliel said.
News of the arrest has spread quickly through the local Bhutanese community, which numbers about 60 families.
Dilli Mishra, a Buthanese immigrant and friend of the victim’s, said Adhikari’s family called to tell him the news. He said the family and others were pleased and felt more secure after worrying that the killer may return to strike at others.
“At least we’ve got relief that someone was caught,” Mishra said.
As for Adhikari’s killer and the victim being targeted as an immigrant, Mishra said, “I think the guy who murdered him is not a human being. He is evil-minded.”
Wednesday night about 40 local Bhutanese crowded into the Adhikari apartment, deeply shaken by the slaying. Many of the refugees said they felt targeted.
“They say they do quite often receive harassment from people in the area,” said Dharma Acharya, an immigrant from Nepal who has lived in Jacksonville for about 15 years.
Word of the slaying has spread through the refugee camps in Nepal. Elaine Carson, director of World Relief’s Jacksonville office, said the agency has been working with the U.S. State Department to expedite the arrival in Jacksonville of Adhikari’s two brothers from one of the camps. That could happen early next week.
Carson, whose agency resettled the victim and his parents, said there are plans to help the family move to another apartment complex. For those who remain, the manager of Stonemont Village is planning to add more lighting, security cameras and possibly will offer an apartment to a police officer, Carson said.