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The Killer Next Door?

How a churchgoing amateur soccer player ended up in the middle of three brutal murders.

On June 11, 2006, Cevelino Capuia walked into a Beaverton Plaid Pantry store with a 4.5-inch kitchen knife and told the clerk to open the register drawer.

"Are you serious?" she asked the handsome 19-year-old.

Just then, Daniel Averill, 18, walked in, wielding an even smaller knife. Grabbing the cash tray, the two fled the store and sped off in a silver Honda Civic. Beaverton police, summoned by dispatch, followed the car with sirens blaring for a few blocks before it crashed. While Averill slipped away, Capuia hid in the woods, where police soon discovered him and placed him under arrest.

At first, the crime looked like little more than the botched work of novice thieves. But when police ran the Honda's vehicle identification number, they traced the car to the victim of an unsolved homicide in Northeast Portland. One month earlier, Chai Taphom had been kidnapped, shot execution-style and dumped in an alley.

In an interview room one day after his arrest, Capuia started talking. And talking. Without asking for a lawyer, he confessed that he'd been outside an adult video store on Northeast 82nd Avenue on May 13, when the 28-year-old Taphom was kidnapped, shoved back into his Honda Civic, and later shot and killed. Capuia went on to admit he'd been at the same store, the Blue Spot, two weeks later, on May 28, when Michael Burchett was shot and killed, and his car, a black Honda Civic, stolen.

Capuia acknowledged he had participated in both crimes, but not alone. The name of his accomplice, he said, was "Sosa." Capuia told police that Sosa, not he, had fired the shots that killed both Taphom and Burchett.

The next day, police picked up Sosa in Corvallis. The 20-year-old college student, whose real name is Shawn Ryan Womack, also made a surprisingly frank confession, admitting to the two Portland murders.

But then he confessed something else. He told police he had also killed Marissa Manwarren, Capuia's 17-year-old girlfriend, two days earlier.

Womack said he and his girlfriend had picked up Manwarren the day of Capuia's arrest. He drove out of town, shot her in the head, and left her body along a rural road near Beverly Beach on the Oregon Coast.

When cops told the news to Capuia, who was still in custody, he collapsed in tears, according to court documents. They had been dating for seven months, he said, and Manwarren was two months pregnant.

In fact, just hours before she died, Manwarren posted a note on Capuia's MySpace page. She wrote:

The media frenzy following the arrests focused on the stark contrast between the suspects' largely clean records and the savage nature of their crimes. Womack was a student ambassador at Linn-Benton Community College. Capuia came from a hardworking immigrant family and was described by friends as a devout Christian, a serious student and a committed amateur soccer player.

Those who thought they knew Capuia best cannot point to a seminal moment when he transformed from an insecure teenager into an accused killer. Like many young men, he was eager to show his toughness. He had a tendency to brag and show off. And he underwent a dramatic transformation after high school, seeking to confirm his status with street credibility.

Many friends blame Capuia's friendship with Womack, a tough kid who grew up in Baltimore and New York state. While Capuia may have thought he'd found a savvy guide to street life, he appears instead to have found a bad seed. In 2001, at age 16, Womack was arrested after bringing a stolen, loaded, sawed-off shotgun to school in the small town of Brownville, N.Y. Law enforcement sources say his fascination with brutality may have run deeper still.

But it doesn't explain why Capuia went along with the crimes.

Fifteen years ago, Capuia moved to Portland from Zambia with his mother, Julieta, his father, Estevao, and seven brothers and sisters. The family settled in a large, ramshackle home near Northeast Alberta Street and opened Capuia's International Restaurant, which served a mix of American comfort food and traditional African cooking at locations on Northwest Broadway and Northeast Killingsworth Street. They also ran a janitorial business.

The restaurant occupied most of the family's time—both of the parents, Capuia and his seven siblings would often work there, cooking and serving food. The remainder of their waking hours were often spent at Highland United Church of Christ on Northeast Alberta, a popular evangelical church known for its moderate politics and charismatic spirituality. (The church has since outgrown the space and moved to a new building on Northeast Glisan Street.)

Anorvia Spencer, 23, daughter of pastor W.G. Hardy, first met Capuia in Sunday school when they were both younger than 10 years old. She and her husband, Antwaun, who also grew up in the church, spoke about Capuia inside their modest home on a tree-lined block in Northeast Portland.

"He was always quiet," Anorvia says. "The other boys his age would be hyperactive, running around, being boys. He was very obedient." Even into high school, she says, Capuia stayed away from the crowd that caused trouble. "He was never part of the mess," she says. When Capuia dated her cousin in high school, Anorvia didn't worry. The dark-skinned boy with angular features and an athletic physique had a reputation as a good listener, though he sometimes came across as aloof and detached. "He was deep," Anorvia says.

Antwaun, now a busy father and college student, had several brushes with the law just a few years ago, back when he says he was "hustling girls." He now leads Wednesday-night youth ministry meetings, which Capuia regularly attended. Antwaun says Capuia steered clear of the gangs and associated crime in their Northeast Portland neighborhood. Capuia didn't seem to share his peers' fixation on material displays of wealth or power: "He never adapted to the inner-city norms," Antwaun says.

Instead, Capuia sought to dominate the soccer field.

Following his older brother Joaquim, Capuia began playing on club soccer teams when he was about 15. He had grown up scrimmaging with family and friends but had never before competed on an organized team, and never in the elite realm of club soccer, a prerequisite for attracting the attention of scouts for colleges and professional teams.

Stan Rodriguez, a coach for the Westside Metros soccer club, noticed Capuia's skills while playing for an opposing team about five years ago. A year later, Capuia was playing for Rodriguez's team Mundial, one of the best on the club's roster.

"He's a natural athlete," says Rodriguez, a former semi-pro soccer player with a softening midsection and two thick silver hoops in his ears.

Capuia played forward. He had speed and dexterity, although the quality of his effort and concentration vacillated, Rodriguez says. Capuia scored a few crucial goals, including one that got the team into the Oregon Youth Soccer Association finals in 2004. Whenever he made a goal, he'd look up to the sky and thank God.

In games, he would take possession of the ball and have trouble letting go, often forgetting to pass.

Fellow forward Chris Price, who now plays for Warner Pacific College, says Capuia "was very much a ball hog. But he could finish."

Rodriguez grins a little remembering how Capuia would gloat: "We were 'raw,' he'd say. That was his thing. We were 'raw.'"

Rodriguez says he came to believe that Capuia's eagerness to show off, and puff up at any suggestion of weakness, stemmed from a simple desire for love and affection. The coach wondered whether the Capuia clan had time to notice their son's neediness.

Capuia often had to be reminded that his soccer skills might not take him where he wanted to go—he was good, but not that good. Once, Rodriguez threatened to kick Capuia off the team if he didn't learn to pass. "That scared him, I think," the coach says. "Capuia feared being seen as vulnerable or weak."

Other than soccer, Capuia obsessed over romance. Friends from high school say he was always "in love" with a girl, and sometimes two. Women were drawn to him as well, even though he often floundered when it came to getting serious.

During his senior year, friends say, Capuia began to change.

"When I first met him, he was more laid back. He set himself apart, I think," says Mario Echeverria, who attended Benson High School with Capuia. "He had something going for himself. But he wanted street credibility, too."

Even though he still went to church and talked frequently about God, he was partying more. His friends say most kids in their class experimented with drugs, but they were surprised to hear rumors about the seemingly innocent Capuia smoking pot.

In fall 2004, Capuia moved to Corvallis for college. Despite media reports that he attended Oregon State University, the school says he never enrolled. He did work part-time in a dining hall. Linn-Benton Community College would not confirm whether Capuia attended. Regardless, it was in Corvallis that he met Womack, a student at the community college.

When Capuia came home during winter break, he brought his new friend.

The new boy rubbed many in Capuia's clique the wrong way. "He came and told us that he was taking Capuia under his wing," Echeverria says. Sosa boasted about selling drugs. "He thought he was too cool for us."

Capuia seemed different. He used New York slang and ditched his friends' living-room domino games for bigger parties. "I think Sosa was a huge influence," Echeverria says.

Capuia transferred to Portland Community College in 2005 and, according to friends, moved back in with his parents. (Capuia and his parents declined to speak to WW.) He got a part-time job as a canvasser for the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group over winter break. Around the same time, he met Marissa Manwarren, who was just 17 and a student at Portland Community College. Echeverria says Capuia fell madly in love with Manwarren and liked to show her off. The comely girl, who had been informally adopted by state Sen. Margaret Carter, had a history of running away from home.

Around the same time, Capuia started becoming more involved in his church. In addition to singing in choir and attending the 5 am Sunday prayer service, he started working as a youth team leader, teaching boys just a few years younger than he about the Bible and the responsibilities of adulthood. Months later, after the shootings and the arrests, Antwaun and Anorvia Spencer realized they had noticed Capuia making more frequent trips to the altar, often crying openly as he prayed, around the times of his crimes.

In September 2005, in what was to be his first serious run-in with the law, Capuia was arrested for burglarizing the pay-booth in a downtown parking garage.

A few months later, Capuia and Antwaun participated in a church mission delivering food to the homeless on West Burnside Street. Afterward, the friends sat alone in the church van, talking about their faith. In his typical grave tone, Capuia said he was questioning God. Yes, he still believed, he said. But he badly wanted God to answer more of his questions, to show his face.

Then Capuia posed a strange question. "Can you smoke weed and steal and still love the Lord?" he asked. He said he had a friend, Sosa, who did those things. But he also, Capuia said, "knows the word and loves God. I see goodness in this guy."

"He said it like he wanted it to be OK," Antwaun says.

On the evening of May 13, according to police statements and the narratives contained in several search-warrant affidavits filed with the Benton County courts, Womack's 22-year-old girlfriend, Jasmine Lesniak, picked up Capuia and Womack in her Mitsubishi Galant and drove them to the Blue Spot adult bookstore on Northeast 82nd Avenue. The store sits in a squat strip mall that faces away from the busy rush of traffic along 82nd Avenue. At night, the parking lot is dark and forlorn, with low light from a couple of broken neon signs.

Womack and Capuia may never have entered the store. In the parking lot, they kidnapped Taphom at gunpoint, forced him back into his Honda Civic and drove him to another location, where Womack shot and killed him with a 9 mm handgun. His body was discovered in an alley near Northeast 111th Avenue and Davis Street.

Fifteen days later, on May 28, at 2:20 in the morning, Womack and Capuia returned to the Blue Spot. According to police, they got into an argument with Michael Burchett, a 38-year-old truck driver and ex-Marine whose wife was eight months pregnant with their second child. Forcing Burchett to his knees, Womack shot him several times in the head with the same 9 mm handgun. Capuia drove away in Burchett's black Honda.

After the shootings, according to affidavits, Capuia and Manwarren moved in with two friends, Selene Zacarias and Nicole Logan, in a house in Hillsboro.

Around that time, Coach Rodriguez ran into Capuia and his brother Jo at a soccer game at Delta Park. It was raining. Jo pulled Rodriguez aside and asked the coach to talk to his brother. He told Rodriguez that Capuia was involved with the "wrong crowd, people with a negative influence." When Rodriguez approached, Capuia had a beer in his hand. "He didn't seem like he was in the right frame of mind to talk to me," Rodriguez says.

Perhaps his conscience soon caught up with him. The circumstances of Capuia's arrest—a robbery so poorly planned it seemed designed to fail—could be read as one last, desperate plea for help. His capture set off a chain of events that led to the unraveling of the Blue Spot murders.

On June 11, when Manwarren and her two Hillsboro roommates saw news of Capuia's Plaid Pantry arrest on TV, Logan heard Manwarren say: "Oh my God, I can't believe this is happening. That car is stolen, and they killed someone to get that car."

Womack and Lesniak came to the Hillsboro house later that day looking for Manwarren. She wasn't there, and the couple drove off in a small black car, probably Burchett's Civic.

Apparently, they later found Manwarren elsewhere; she called her roommates to say she was going to Corvallis with the couple.

On June 13, Womack, who had already been identified by Capuia, was arrested in Corvallis with his girlfriend. Police found bloodstains on his bumper and a pool of blood in the trunk.

With apparently little prompting, Womack divulged the details of his crimes. He admitted to participating in the murders at the Blue Spot. He also confessed to killing Manwarren. Womack said he'd picked her up in Portland and given her $200 with which to buy drugs from a dealer. When she emerged from the house with neither the cash nor the dope, he said, he became angry. He drove a short distance outside the city, shot her twice in the head, and then transported her body in his trunk to a rural road near Beverly Beach. Police recovered her remains June 14.

A grand jury indicted both Womack and Capuia on June 20, charging Womack with three counts of aggravated murder and Capuia with two. Lesniak was charged with hindering prosecution. Womack and Capuia had confessed to the crimes, but they pleaded not guilty at arraignment. The case will probably end with a plea bargain. If it goes to trial, the charges could result in the death penalty, life without parole, or life with parole after 30 years.

Under Oregon law, if you participate in any way in intentionally causing the death of another person in order to conceal the crime of robbery, you can be charged with aggravated murder—even if, as was the case with Capuia, you never pulled the trigger.

"I think he got in too deep," Antwaun Spencer says. "I've been through that before. I seen it with my own eyes."

In 2004, Antwaun says, he was arrested and charged with attempted murder in a shooting outside a convenience store. He watched as a friend, using his gun, shot another man in the leg. Police knew Antwaun wasn't their man, but they charged him anyway, and threw him in jail.

He remembers agonizing over his decision whether to inform on his friends, wondering, "Should I tell and be labeled a snitch and have the whole neighborhood hate me?" Antwaun faced 12 years in prison for following the code of the street. He decided to talk after two months in jail. "I knew that once I told, I was going to have to stop what I was doing in terms of the street life," he says. "Because those people wouldn't trust me anymore."

Antwaun thinks Capuia faced a similar dilemma. He got caught between loyalty to his friend and his desire to do the right thing; his fear of his friend and his need to save himself.

Capuia's parents recently sold their restaurant. Standing on the back steps of the family home, two of his brothers and a sister, who did not want to talk in detail about the case, say they wonder whether things would have turned out differently if their brother had never met Womack.

The lingering mystery is more difficult to answer. Police, who cannot speak to the press about ongoing investigations, have given no hint as to the motive behind Womack and Capuia's crimes. The clues are disturbing, two men apparently killed for their inexpensive cars outside a seedy adult video store. Confessions so quick they almost seem eager.

Whatever the motive, the slayings represent a rare atrocity by Portland standards. On average, about 30 homicides take place each year in the city. Of that number, four involve strangers killing strangers. Womack and Capuia were responsible for half of those cases.

Cevelino Capuia also played for the Benson High School soccer team.

On May 6, 2006, Shawn Womack and Jasmine Lesniak filed a suspicious report on a burglary of their own apartment, telling police that two laptop computers, two digital cameras and one Glock handgun had been stolen.

Several items from the victims' cars have yet to be located, including a set of golf clubs and two children's car seats.

Taphom's body was found near Northeast 111th Avenue and Davis Street in the early morning hours of May 13, after police responded to a call reporting gunshots.

At the height of the investigation, about 20 Portland police officers were working on this case.

Capuia and Daniel Averill, a transient, are being prosecuted for robbery in Washington County.