Authorities tried to put Malik Samartaney behind bars for long enough that he’d hurt no one else. They tried when he went by the name Lawrence Banks and threw his infant daughter through a glass door. They tried when he gunned down a drinking buddy. And they tried when he shot his son in the head as the boy cowered on the kitchen floor.
Now, they’re trying again. Baltimore prosecutors began to present evidence Thursday in another murder case against Samartaney, telling jurors the 68-year-old former Marine from Northwest Baltimore killed his grown daughter, dismembered her body, and threw her away at a dumpster.
“He left her body there like trash,” Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Stock told jurors.
Police made the grisly discovery in May 2019, when a neighbor called 911 to report a suspicious package at the dumpster of the Clarks Lane Garden Apartments in Northwest Baltimore. Officer Donald Burns arrived to find a supermarket shopping cart beside the dumpster.
Someone had piled a black trash bag in the cart and tied a sheet over it. The trash bag dripped blood.
“I was probably, in my mind, hoping it was animal, but I knew in my experience it wasn’t,” Burns told the jury.
Inside the bag was the mutilated body of an unidentified woman. She had been bound with black cord, and dismembered. Her head, hands and feet were missing. Police had no fingerprints or dental records to identify her. They didn’t know whether she was Hispanic or African-American.
Worse for investigators, rain overnight had drenched the scene. Evidence technicians couldn’t dust the shopping cart for fingerprints.
Only after detectives circulated photos of the woman’s tattoos was she identified weeks later by a family member as Dominique Foster, a 43-year-old mother of six. Foster had lived previously in Virginia and North Carolina. In Baltimore, she had spent time in drug treatment centers.
Her father, Samartaney, lived at an apartment building up a wooded path about 700 feet away from the dumpster, prosecutors told the jury.
Surveillance cameras captured a figure pushing the shopping cart down the path at night. The figure could be seen dragging a foot across the way to obscure the tracks of the cart.
Foster’s family suspected Samartaney because of his violent past. Previously known as Lawrence Banks, he changed his name decades ago. Since the 1970s, people around him have turned up injured and dead.
When Dominique Foster was 7 months old around Christmas 1975, he threw her through a glass door. He had been arguing with her mother, and according to police reports, threatened “to do something to this baby you’ll both regret.”
Dominique required 22 stitches to her head. Samartaney was charged with assault and intent to disfigure.
While he was out on bail awaiting trial, police found the body of his wife and the baby’s mother, Vivian Banks, hidden in the closet of her East Baltimore apartment. Police suspected he was responsible, according to court records. But her body had decomposed. Medical examiners couldn’t determine what caused her death.
He was convicted of assaulting his daughter and sentenced to 15 years in prison. By December 1988, the 35-year-old Samartaney was released and back in Baltimore.
Three years later, he went out drinking with friends in Pasadena and shot and killed one of them. Michael Chisholm, 36, was shot once in the head and left along the road.
Then Samartaney drove to Baltimore and killed his 17-year-old son at the boy’s foster home on Northern Parkway. He had beaten the boy and raped Dominique, police said at the time. Baltimore child abuse detectives were building a case against him. When the children reported him, he became enraged.
He pleaded guilty to Chisholm’s murder in Anne Arundel County, and no contest to his son’s murder in Baltimore. He received two 20-year prison sentences to be served simultaneously. With credit for good behavior behind bars, he was released under supervision after 11 years.
That’s when he changed his name to Malik Samartaney, remarried and moved to Laurel. Two years later, he was charged with assaulting his second wife. He held a knife to her throat and threatened to dump her body in the Patuxent River, according to charging documents.
Jurors found him not guilty.
Four years later in 2006, he had separated and moved in with a girlfriend in Laurel. The woman’s grown daughter, Lisa Laverne Brown, and baby granddaughter lived with them, too. In December of that year, Brown and the baby were shot to death.
Prince George’s County Police questioned Banks and asked his parole agent to find violations that could keep him behind bars while they built a case against him. He was never charged; their deaths remain unsolved.
Still, none of this violent past was presented to jurors Thursday. His public defenders, Brandon Taylor and Deborah Katz Levi, argued for any mention of his criminal past to be excluded from trial.
Maryland law generally bars prosecutors from admitting evidence of past crimes. The rule aims to ensure men and women are convicted only on evidence at trial — not on bad character.
Circuit Judge Jennifer Schiffer dismissed one juror Thursday who had read about the case outside of court.
Under the same principle known as the “criminal propensity rule,” the judge barred prosecutors from presenting graphic text messages to accuse Samartaney of carrying on a sexual relationship with his daughter before he murdered her.
Stock told jurors she would present data from Samartaney’s cellphone that tracks him walking to the dumpster at the same time the surveillance camera captured the figure pushing the cart. Another camera captured Foster climb into her father’s white van earlier that day.
“It was the last time anyone saw her alive,” Stock told the jury.
Samartaney’s public defenders argued that he didn’t kill his daughter, but wanted to help her. He sent her to treatment for drug addiction, Taylor said.
He presented jurors with a defense theory that she may have fallen victim to the violent Latino street gang MS-13. The gang is notorious for its brutality. Under questioning, the officer Burns said a neighbor reported seeing Hispanic men at the dumpster.
The dumpster was spray painted with a possible gang sign, too.
Taylor seized on holes in the state’s case. Prosecutors made no mention of a motive, murder weapon, or even where Foster was killed. Police searched Samartaney’s van for any shred of evidence.
“They confiscated his van; they searched his van,” Taylor told the jury. “There will not be one piece of evidence at this trial that Mr. Samartaney killed his daughter in his van.”
Reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.