Jason Billingsley, man accused of killing Baltimore tech CEO, arrested after dayslong search

Jason Billingsley, the suspect accused of killing beloved Baltimore tech CEO Pava LaPere, was taken into custody Wednesday night, authorities said.

Acting Baltimore Police Commissioner Richard Worley at a news conference said Billingsley, a registered sex offender, was arrested without incident in Bowie, Maryland, over 20 miles southwest of Baltimore around 11 p.m. He did not say whether Billingsley was armed at the time of his arrest, as police had earlier warned.

Worley said investigators believe LaPere, 26, was killed sometime Friday night. She was found dead from blunt-force trauma around 11:30 a.m. EDT on Monday at her apartment complex hours after being reported missing. Worley said there was no forced entry into the building. He added that police don't know if there were any connections between Billingsley and LaPere.

"The family has asked that we not release any details," he said when asked to provide more information about LaPere's death. "We're going to respect their wishes."

Baltimore State Attorney Ivan Bates said his office will seek the state's harshest punishment for convicted criminals: life without the possibility of parole. The Maryland state legislature in 2013 banned capital punishment.

“Our hope and goal is if this individual is found guilty in a court of law … this individual will never get out to see the light of day again," Bates said.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said it's "heartbreaking" that LaPere was killed by someone who "should not have been out on the streets in the first place."

"All of those who know Pava, our entire city's heart aches with them," Scott said at the Thursday news conference. "And while this arrest will not bring her back, I hope that it does begin the process of closure for her family, her friends, her community and all of Baltimore."

Jason Billingsley, a convicted felon with an extensive criminal history, is the man police believe killed 26-year-old Baltimore tech CEO Pava LaPere, who was found dead on Monday.
Jason Billingsley, a convicted felon with an extensive criminal history, is the man police believe killed 26-year-old Baltimore tech CEO Pava LaPere, who was found dead on Monday.

Urgent manhunt for Billingsley preceded LaPere's killing, police say

At the time police identified Billingsley as the prime suspect in LaPere's killing on Tuesday, he was already the "No. 1 priority" of the police department for his connection to a rape, attempted murder and arson case that occurred on Sept. 19 in Baltimore.

Worley said the rape and arson was a targeted attack that occurred where Billingsley worked, adding the Baltimore Police Department did not send out a notice to the public about the rape because they had no evidence to believe he would commit a random attack.

That's not unusual, according to Steve Nasta, a former New York City Police Department Inspector and adjunct lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“It’s a police tactic,” he said. “And it’s something that police have to weigh carefully because the public’s interest, the safety of the public is paramount, but on the other hand they have to make attempts to arrest the person who committed a crime.”

Flyers were sent to every officer in the Baltimore Police Department with a description of Billingsley and a manhunt involving multiple outside agencies ensued. Investigators tracked his phone, bank records, spoke with witnesses and listened to his jail calls.

John Moriarty, former inspector general at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said that while investigators looking for dangerous suspects, particularly sex offenders, sometimes “err on the side of caution and put that information there,” police may not have publicly identified Billingsley as a suspect because they did not yet have an arrest warrant.

“There’s too many unknowns in the story for me to say they did good or they did bad,” said Moriarty, who said he has worked on hundreds of fugitive operations. “But it sounds to me like investigatively they were doing what was appropriate by tracking his phone, his credit cards. That’s pretty standard operating procedure on that type of violent crime to get him into custody as fast as you can.”

Despite the extensive search, Billingsley managed to elude capture for a week. At one point, police were within 88 meters (96.8 yards) of the fugitive, Worley said.

Nasta and Lenny DePaul, the former chief inspector and commander of the U.S. Marshals' New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force, both said identifying Billingsley publicly sooner could have alerted him to the investigation and made finding him more difficult.

“They knew it was a targeted attack on this individual and they kept it close to the vest, and I understand that,” DePaul said. “You certainly don’t want to steer him to go off the grid and go dark and start jumping around from state to state.”

Worley said that Billingsley watched a news conference about LaPere's killing and subsequently went into hiding and turned off all electronic devices that police were tracking.

"I don't think we made a mistake in this case. I think our detectives made the same decision we make every single time based on the facts and circumstances that we have," he said. "As soon as we realized he committed an act that seemed to be random ... we put the flyer out."

State attorney says plea deal was 'below guidelines'

Billingsley has been convicted on multiple charges dating back to 2009, when he was 18, including two assaults and a sex offense.

Court records show Billingsley was sentenced to 30 years in prison for a 2015 sex offense, but 16 years of that sentence were suspended. Then in October of last year, he was released early on diminution credits, which are earned by inmates and can reduce their term of imprisonment, said James Bentley, a spokesperson for the Baltimore State Attorney’s Office.

Billingsley was not paroled but was released on mandatory supervision, per state law, Mark Vernarelli, a spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, told USA TODAY.

Bates, the state attorney, said the plea deal that was presented by a previous state attorney administration and accepted by a judge was "a little bit below guidelines."

"I'm not going to go back and say hindsight is 20/20," he said. The state attorney later added that the legislature may need to consider making inmates of first-degree sex offenses and rape convictions ineligible for diminution credits.

Upon release, Billingsley was classified as a Tier 3 sex offender, a lifetime registrant; he had to re-register every three months, said Vernarelli. The last time Billingsley registered was on June 26. The Baltimore Police Department issued a warrant earlier this week for his failing to register, and he is listed as noncompliant on the sex offender registry.

'Baltimore has truly lost one of its brightest lights'

The murder of LaPere – the CEO of software startup EcoMap Technologies who received national recognition in Forbes' 30 Under 30 list – shocked many in the city, especially those in the tech community, where she strived for social change.

In the days since the incident, family, friends and community members remembered LaPere as a driven leader who cared for the community. While the entrepreneur was known for her ambitious startups, she was also focused on creating meaningful connections and change within the community.

Pava LaPere, 26, was found dead on Monday in Baltimore after what police said someone called requesting for assistance.
Pava LaPere, 26, was found dead on Monday in Baltimore after what police said someone called requesting for assistance.

Sherrod Davis, LaPere's friend and cofounder of EcoMap Technologies, spoke through tears at a vigil held Wednesday evening to honor the entrepreneur's memory. Davis described LaPere's dedication to building an inclusive and equitable ecosystem in Baltimore – a city she loved.

"Baltimore has truly lost one of its brightest lights and one of its loudest advocates," Davis said at the vigil.

"People often talk about standing on the shoulders of giants to get to where they are," he added. "I've had the privilege of standing on the shoulders of a young, 5-foot-2-inch giant for the last three years."

Kory Bailey, an executive with UpSurge Baltimore, introduced himself as the emcee for the vigil and described LaPere as a “force of nature” who was “full of life and energy.”

Each speaker recalled LaPere’s “loudness” and how easy it was to connect with her. They noted how passionate she was about her company and the community of Baltimore.

“She then talks about EcoMap. And boy, does she talk,” Bailey said. “Anyone who knows Pava knows how passionate and how fast she spoke when she started to talk about EcoMap and creating equitable access to information for everyone, especially those that have been deprived from those resources.”

Frank LaPere remembered his daughter as a “stubborn and sly” girl who would sneak out to ride a bicycle in her hometown of Tucson, Arizona, and then sneak back in before her parents woke up.

“Tucson’s not a small city. But she was that way,” he said. “She's always, always been a leader, always been driven and creative.”

LaPere eventually left Tucson to attend Johns Hopkins University. According to her family, LaPere made Baltimore her home and saw the city's potential for opportunity.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jason Billingsley arrested in connection with murder of Pava LaPere