A 14-year-old boy was charged Monday with the stabbing death of a 39-year-old man who resisted when a group of teenagers tried to rob him near the Fields Corner MBTA station Oct. 6.
The boy, Ernest Watkins IV,was one of at least four teenagers who allegedly attempted to rob Cherby LaJoie, authorities said, but Watkins was singled out by witnesses as the one who repeatedly plunged a knife into the victim. LaJoie was stabbed 37 times.
Watkins was tied to the stabbing by surveillance video, witnesses, and a key left near the victim’s foot that later opened the door to the teenager’s Dorchester home, officials said.
A trail of blood led from the scene at 11 Charles St. in Dorchester across the street to the Fields Corner MBTA Station, where surveillance video captured images of Watkins attempting to use a Charlie Card.
“The attack went down as a robbery, and the victim was stabbed when he resisted,” Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said in a telephone interview.
Davis praised Boston police detectives and MBTA Transit Police and said their surveillance tapes proved “very helpful” in the investigation and arrest of the boy. Davis said the suspect was identified through the video with cooperation from the community.
Watkins is being prosecuted as an adult and was charged with murder, the degree of which will be determined when the case is sent to Suffolk Superior Court. Under state law, any juvenile charged with murder is automatically tried as an adult, authorities said. No other arrests have been made. The Globe is naming Watkins, a juvenile, because he is being charged with murder.
“The investigation is active with regard to the other assailants,” said Jake Wark, spokesman for the Suffolk district attorney’s office. Wark declined to say whether the weapon used in the slaying was recovered.
During his arraignment Monday, Watkins stood in a hallway connected to a holding area in the courtroom, out of view of cameras and the victim’s family.
Watkins’s attorney, Janice Bassil, pleaded not guilty on his behalf and argued that the case against him is one of mistaken identity. She said Watkins had never been arrested, and she asked that he be released with a GPS monitoring bracelet. His parents and other relatives were in the courtroom, as well as a teacher from his school. But the judge refused to release Watkins and scheduled a probable-cause hearing for Nov. 13.
“I didn’t hear a lot of strong evidence against him,’’ Bassil said, specifically disputing claims by prosecutors that her client bore cuts on his body consistent with being the knife-wielding attacker.
“The fact of the matter is, they’ve arrested a 14-year-old, pulled him out of his life, pulled him away from his family,” said Bassil. “This is not a gang case; this is not a gang kid. He is just sort of baffled by this.
“They’re very shaken by this,” she said of the defendant’s family, who declined to comment as they left the courtroom.
Mark Hallal, assistant district attorney, told Judge Kenneth V. Desmond that four young males entered the MBTA station moments after the homicide and that a suspect wearing a green-and-white shirt appeared injured.
In the video, the four then leave the station, but one of the youths returns and attempts to swipe a Charlie Card three times, although the gates do not open. That youth then jumps the gate but later leaves the station through an emergency exit.
According to authorities, information from the Charlie Card records led police to a person who knows Watkins and when that person was shown photographs from the surveillance video, he or she identified Watkins.
About 45 minutes later, and unrelated to the search for the suspects, Boston police stopped a car in another area of the city. One of the occupants appeared nervous and did not initially give his name. A police officer noticed he wore a green-and-white shirt, like the assailant, but the car and the occupants were allowed to leave.
Watkins and the other occupants were later connected to the slaying by police.
On Saturday, police searched Watkins’s home and tested a key that was found on top of one of LaJoie’s shoes at the murder scene. Authorities tried the key at the home, found that it fit, and Watkins was arrested.
Watkins is an eighth-grade student at College Bound Dorchester, an alternative school on East Cottage Street that caters to students who have behavioral issues and need intervention, said Matthew Wilder, spokesman for the Boston public school system. This year was Watkins’s first at the school. Before going to College Bound, he attended the John W. McCormack Middle School in Dorchester.
LaJoie’s family declined to comment after the arraignment.
According to authorities, LaJoie was charged in 1996 with murder in the slaying of a 19-year-old man whose body was found in a Ridgewood Street apartment in Dorchester with several gunshot wounds. Three years later, a jury deadlocked in LaJoie’s trial, and a Suffolk Superior Court judge declared a mistrial.
LaJoie, a former Boston Youth Clean-up Corps member, eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served 10 years in prison, authorities said. Wark said investigators are looking into that case to determine if there is any connection to the stabbing.Brian Ballou can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @globeballou.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the location of the fatal stabbing. It occurred on 11 Charles St., across the street from the Fields Corner MBTA stop.