A Germantown man accused of killing a North Bethesda woman allegedly stabbed her dozens of times and then drove her car with her body in it for two days before setting the vehicle and her remains on fire, a Montgomery County prosecutor said in court Thursday.
Stephan Leroy H. Lunningham, 29, was arrested Wednesday and charged with first-degree murder and first-degree arson in connection with the death of Angela “Paris” Fay Thomas, 49, whose body was found in a burning car on a small access road near a residential area in Germantown last week.
During Lunningham’s bail review hearing Thursday in the Montgomery County District Court in Rockville, a prosecutor with the State’s Attorney’s Office detailed the violence of the murder.
The results of an autopsy by the state medical examiner’s office suggest Thomas was “stabbed 30 times in her back, neck and chest,” Assistant State’s Attorney Jessica Hall said.
Lunningham, who appeared via video feed from the Montgomery County Detention Center, said he isn’t violent in response to Hall’s description of the murder and another assault charge he is facing for a separate incident, in which she said he caused someone to suffer an orbital fracture of an eye. Lunningham denied committing the assault.
“Like I said, I’m not a violent individual,” Lunningham said. “That assault, that’s B.S. … I work two jobs, I go to school. I just want a chance.”
Judge Amy Bills ordered him to be held without bail, citing the “particularly heinous way the victim was murdered.”
According to Montgomery County police, someone called 911 at about 4:20 a.m. March 14 to report a brush fire in an area near Wisteria Drive in Germantown, across the street from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. When firefighters arrived, they found a car in flames. A body was in the backseat.
As police began investigating the death, they found that the car—a black Honda Accord—was registered to Thomas, who lived on Grosvenor Lane with her boyfriend, according to court documents.
Detectives spoke to her boyfriend, who said he hadn’t seen her since March 4. Police also spoke to her mother, who had last seen her on March 8 and said she knew Thomas had been with a friend who lived in Germantown on March 11, police wrote in court filings.
The friend told police Thomas would sometimes spend the night at her apartment and had been there on March 11 before she left in the afternoon “with a guy named Steph,” according to the documents.
The friend knew Lunningham as a “mutual friend,” police wrote. He had come to drive Thomas in her car to another friend’s apartment to return the friend’s cellphone, and then was going to drive Thomas to her North Bethesda apartment to pick up clothes before returning to the Germantown apartment.
She never returned to the Germantown apartment, and never arrived at the other apartment to return the phone, police wrote.
Lunningham allegedly returned to the Germantown apartment at about 4:30 a.m. March 12 to ask if Thomas was there, the friend told police. He told the friend that Thomas had driven him to work and he was looking for a backpack that he had left in her car. The friend “thought this was strange” because he had been driving Thomas earlier and she thought Thomas “was in no mental condition to drive a vehicle safely,” according to the documents. Police and prosecutors did not elaborate on her mental condition.
Hall said Thomas had been dead for two days by the time she was found, suggesting she had died that night or the morning of March 12.
At 3:49 a.m. March 14, Lunningham allegedly entered a 7-Eleven on Liberty Mill Road in Germantown, about 2 miles from where Thomas’ body was found. Police wrote that he had a red gas can and bought $2.60 worth of gasoline.
“This purchase is approximately twenty minutes before the victim’s car is ignited,” police wrote in court documents.
Thomas’ family members, who came to court Thursday, said they remembered her as someone who was ambitious, extroverted and always willing to help others. She worked as a hairstylist and had many friends in the area.
“She had a very vibrant personality, very recognizable,” her niece, Taylor Proctor, said outside of the courthouse. “It’s shocking. It’s still sinking in that you’re just waiting for her to come home and she’s just not going to come home. You have to keep reminding yourself that [she’s] not actually going to come home, and I don’t know when that ever is gonna sink in or if it will.”
A public defender representing Lunningham said in court that Lunningham’s guilt hasn’t been determined, and she said he is a working man with a job in landscaping. He lives on Harmony Woods Lane with his mother.
Lunningham faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for the murder charge, and an additional 30 years and/or a $50,000 fine for arson. He is scheduled to return to court for a preliminary hearing on April 20.