Three men and a woman were arrested Thursday morning in connection with the death of a 48-year-old Columbia man who was fatally beaten on Jan. 8 during an invasion of his home.
Police charged Michael Williams, 24, Julian Jackman, 28, Walter Harris, 40, and Amy Garrison, 32, with second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and armed criminal action in connection with the death of Fernando Olivares, a Mexican immigrant.
Williams worked with Olivares at the Columbia Public Works Department. Both were residential refuse collectors, two of 26 workers in their department.
Columbia Police Capt. Mike Martin said police spoke to Williams and all of his co-workers in the days following the attack on Olivares. In a second interview Wednesday, Williams gave police inconsistent answers, Martin said.
“Once we pointed these inconsistencies out, (Williams) indicated that he had been involved and gave three other names,” Martin said.
Both Harris and Jackman were questioned later Wednesday but refused to make statements to police. But Garrison, Jackman’s roommate, told police that she was the one who had knocked on the Olivares’ door on Jan. 8.
After Olivares’ wife, Deborah, opened the door, three men pushed into the house with guns and demanded money, according to statements the couple made to police immediately after the incident. Olivares was beaten with fists and a gun while his wife was retrieving the cash the assailants demanded, police said. He died a week later as a result of head and internal injuries.
Martin said Olivares and his wife had a large sum of money in their home that had come through a “family situation” and that Olivares had talked about it at work. Police said Williams knew about the money, although it wasn’t clear if he learned about it firsthand.
Solid Waste Division Manager Richard Wieman said it was possible that Williams and Olivares had worked together on the same truck.
During interviews, police served search warrants on Williams’ residence at 206 N. Old 63, Apt. 14, Harris’ residence at 415 N. Garth Ave. and Jackman and Garrison’s residence at 4106 Tropical Lane. Police obtained evidence that linked the suspects to the crime, Martin said.
The Olivares’ home invasion was the second of four reported in the past 15 days.
On Thursday, police were also seeking three suspects in another home invasion on Wednesday in the 400 block of Sanford Avenue. The suspects — Shawn Hunter, 21, Eric Jackson, 23, and Jay Dixon, 23 — were named by witnesses to that incident, police said.
In the Sanford Avenue home invasion, two armed men forced their way into the home of a 23-year-old Columbia man and demanded money, police said. The men then fired one round and left, fleeing north on foot, police said. It wasn’t clear Thursday why police were seeking three suspects in the incident.
Police said two of the four home invasions — the Sanford Avenue incident and another that occurred on Jan. 6 at 201 W. Ash St. — were considered drug-related.
Police were still trying to determine a motive for an incident on Monday on Gipson Street in north Columbia.
Martin said that the invasions were unrelated and described them as a “spike” in this type of crime. Martin said he believes the increase of home invasions in Columbia is a reflection of national crime trends and of the city’s rapid growth.
But it’s not a crime the average person has to worry about because home invasions are not random attacks, Columbia Police Sergeant Danny Grant said.
“It appears to us, through these investigations, that there is some relationship between the victim and the suspect,” Grant said.
Still, there are precautions that the general public can take against this type of crime, Grant said. He suggested joining a neighborhood watch, having a “fish-eye” or viewing piece in the front door and having good locks and exterior lighting. He also emphasized the importance of only answering the door at normal times of day and never to a stranger.