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When Eric Somuah was found dead, shot at point-blank range in the bedroom of his 6th-floor apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland, police at the scene had more questions than answers. Who would have wanted to kill the young, dashing, successful car salesman? If there was a killer, why was there no sign of a break-in? He was tucked into bed, so he may have died by suicide — but if that was the case, why was there no gun found at the scene?
The mystery surrounding Somuah’s June 2012 death and the investigation that took a young, sharp Maryland detective to the Deep South is revisited in the second episode of this season of “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered,” which airs Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on Oxygen.
“There’s no way he took his life,” Cynthia Somuah, the victim’s brother, told the show’s producers. “Eric loved life.”
Montgomery County Police Det. Dimitry Ruvin was soon put on the case when it was deemed that foul play must have been involved. He soon learned that Somuah had a reputation as a local ladies’ man who was living his own dream life selling fast cars and playing the field as a single man. Throughout the investigation, as Ruvin told “Dateline” producers, the detective began to gain a liking for the 35-year-old Beltway Casanova, who was also young, successful, and driven. Ruvin even kept a photo of Somuah on his desk.
“We called him ‘the most interesting man in the world’ — that was the name of the case. I’ve always had a picture of Eric to keep me going, keep working the case,” Ruvin said.
Ruvin started the investigation by looking into the victim’s big, tight-knit family, but they were quickly ruled out as potential suspects. His two older sisters and brother did, however, provide some key details about their baby brother’s lifestyle — specifically, that he was a regular at a local bar and had an active love life. In fact, he was told by a local tapster that Somuah was known to leave with a new woman most nights he’d hit the bar. But since Somuah was shot while tucked into bed, Ruvin concluded the culprit was close to the victim.
“It was someone that Eric trusted so much that he went to sleep and had that person there,” Ruvin said.
The family also mentioned a girlfriend, Denise, who Somuah had been seeing for about a year. She was about 20 years older and not particularly liked by Somuah’s family. She also had a key to his apartment. But the lead quickly proved to be a dead-end; phone records put Denise at home the night of the killing.
Meanwhile, a distraught neighbor came forward to the police. Katrina Ben told investigators that she’d been seeing Somuah for a few weeks prior to his death. They’d met outside their building when he approached her, asking if she was a nurse; she was one, with the National Institutes of Health. The flirtation between the two turned into a couple of dates, usually on Monday nights — they both enjoyed watching basketball games.
Ben told police that she wanted an update on the investigation; as seen in footage obtained by “Dateline,” she asked Ruvin if he’d made any calls just before his death. Was she the last person he’d phoned? Depressed, crying, and upset since his death, Ben wanted to “settle her heart,” as she told detectives. At his funeral, she sat in the second row, NBC Washington reported. However, since she was considered a witness, and had seen him the night before his death, they couldn’t tell her much.
What Ben told them next sent detectives down an unexpected path. Out of the blue that night, Somuah had said he wanted to smoke marijuana. The two hopped in his car and drove to see a local drug dealer, who she described as bald, skinny, and with a scruffy beard. After they returned, Ben said, they had sex then she fell asleep, but later awoke to him speaking to someone — perhaps the dealer, she told Ruvin — which made her feel uneasy. Ben said she decided to leave around 5:30 a.m.
The drug dealer lead, however, was another dead-end. When they tracked the dealer down, he denied he’d been in the apartment.
“I don’t deliver,” he insisted to Ruvin. And there was no security footage of him or DNA evidence in Somuah’s apartment building or home.
Ruvin decided it’d best that he again speak with Ben. He headed up to Baltimore, where Ben had relocated for work. Under more intense questioning, Ben told him she didn’t own — or had ever even fired — a handgun. But Ruvin had become convinced that the heartbroken nurse was involved in Somuah’s murder. He then headed south to Ben’s hometown of Silver Creek, Mississippi.
There, Ben’s father confirmed that he was a gun owner and his daughter had indeed fired them.
Soon, a year had passed since Somuah’s death, and the investigation was at standstill. It was then that Ruvin decided to move his investigation to the murder weapon, a .380 Automatic Colt Pistol. In the past year, about 60 had been seized, found or turned over to authorities in Montgomery County; in Ruvin’s deliberate investigation, it was the 59th gun he examined that led to a break in the case, as he told “Dateline” producers.
It turned out that the .380 used in Somuah’s murder had been spotted on the side of the D.C. beltway by a tourist while stuck in slow traffic by the Colesville Road exit, who then turned it in to police. A bullet casing had been recovered at the murder scene, so through ballistics testing and tracing the weapon’s serial number, Ruvin was able to determine the pistol had been sold at a pawn shop in Columbia, Mississippi — a few miles from Silver Creek.
Ruvin, through some deep persuasion, was able to trace the gun through six owners who’d gone on to pawn the weapon before it was eventually used to kill Somuah 1,000 miles away. He finally received word from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms about the most recent purchaser of that particular .380 ACP: one Katrina Renee Ben.
“It was pretty incredible,” Ruvin told “Dateline” of the moment he received the fax containing his key suspect’s name. “I was literally jumping up and down.”
Ruvin then went after Ben with full force. At that point, she’d moved back to Mississippi, which is where she was arrested and questioned until she lawyered up. Now, it was up to Montgomery County Assistant State’s Attorney Jessica Zarrella to prosecute the case; Zarrella was the prosecutor who coined the phrase “Monday Night Girl” in relation to Ben’s affair with Somuah in 2014.
“[It's] a girl who you do not take out, you do not show off, and you do not introduce to your friends,” Zarrella explained to “Dateline.” “She has her purposes, but those purposes are relegated to Monday nights, and not the more high-profile Saturday and Friday night.”
Prosecutors theorized that Ben had learned this — perhaps by looking at Somuah’s phone — and shot him in his sleep, ditched the .380, then later adopted the role of the concerned lover in a budding relationship with her neighbor. Ben’s defense strategy simple: She had no real motive, as she’d only known Somuah for three weeks; she just wasn’t that into him. Ben even told detectives that she never believed he was being sincere with her.
But at the trial, an expert testified that the bullet that killed Somuah was consistent with the gun purchased by Ben in Mississippi in 2004. Her lawyer argued that the bullet also could be consistent with many other pistols, and that Somuah also had the opportunity to take Ben’s gun from her apartment, as the Washington Post reported in 2014.
It took the jury six hours to find Ben guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Somuah. She was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years.
“There’s no doubt in my mind had she not been convicted of this crime, Katrina Ben was just as likely to encounter someone else who disrespected her in the same way as Eric did,” Zarrella told “Dateline.” “And visit that ultimate consequence, which was to take his life."
For more on the case, watch "Dateline: Secrets Uncovered," Thursdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
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