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Friday, July 1, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Accused killer prone to threats

Seattle Times staff reporter

In the days leading up to the fatal shooting of a popular high-school tennis coach, police had numerous encounters with the 18-year-old man charged in the slaying.

One week before Samson Berhe allegedly shot 46-year-old Mike Robb, police were called to Berhe's home by his mother, who said her son had repeatedly threatened to kill himself, according to a statement released yesterday by police. Berhe's doctor, she reportedly told police, had taken him off his mental-health medication.

Three days later, on June 22, police said they again went to the house in West Seattle after Berhe reportedly struck his brother's friend and said that he "ruled the world" and that "all confused people should be killed," the statement said. Berhe was taken to Harborview Medical Center for an evaluation, police said, but he was deemed to be "not in need of treatment."

The next day, according to the police statement, officers responded to an "abandoned child" call at Harborview after Berhe's parents refused to pick him up because they were afraid of him.

The boy was then turned over to Child Protective Services, which apparently released him to his family within the next few days, the police statement said.

Child Protective Services and Harborview Medical Center could not be reached yesterday for comment. Amnon Shoenfeld, the director of King County Mental Health, said he did not have information on Berhe, but even if he or the other agencies did, they were barred from disclosing it because of patient-confidentiality issues.

Berhe was charged as an adult yesterday — which was his 18th birthday — with first-degree murder for the slaying of Robb, tennis coach at Newport High School in Bellevue and a respected tennis umpire who had worked at the U.S. Open. The charging papers filed in King County Superior Court shed additional light on Berhe's run-ins with police and his threatening behavior in the week leading up to the slaying.

Berhe had spoken to several friends and neighbors in the days before Robb's death of his desire to kill a white person, according to charging papers. A friend of Berhe's told police he had said, "I got to shoot a cop or shoot a white person, you know, before I leave this world."

Berhe is black and Robb was white.

Charging papers also said another acquaintance, Greg Triggs, said he saw Berhe and a friend brandishing shotguns in their West Seattle neighborhood two days before Robb's slaying. Triggs said he confiscated the shotgun from Berhe, but returned it at Berhe's insistence on the day Robb was killed.

The police statement also confirmed that officers had talked to Berhe twice on the day Robb was shot.

Police said they spoke to Berhe and another teen about reports the two had been sleeping and partying in a vacant house near Berhe's home. They warned them off but did not arrest them, according to the owner of the house.

Later that day, about an hour before Robb was shot, police said they questioned Berhe and a friend about a burglary. Police said that at that time Berhe dropped a few shotgun shells on the street, and they were later recovered by police. The friend was arrested but Berhe was not detained, even though a warrant had been issued for his arrest on two minor juvenile offenses from 2002.

Explaining why Berhe wasn't arrested, police and prosecutors said they weren't aware of the warrant because Berhe's last name was misspelled on the warrant and in earlier court documents.

Robb was driving home on northbound West Marginal Way Southwest at about 7:30 p.m. Sunday when he apparently turned around for an unknown reason, court documents said. Friends of the victim said it would be like Robb — a husband and father as well as a high-school coach — to stop for someone who seemed to need help.

Witnesses told police that Robb was stopped in the center southbound lane and appeared to be holding his door open when Berhe allegedly walked up to him and shot him point-blank in the head with a shotgun. Court documents say witnesses saw the shooter looking agitated and talking to himself minutes before Robb's death.

Police said the shooting was random in that there was no known connection between Berhe and Robb.

Berhe was arrested the next day while hiding on a barge in the middle of the Duwamish River, not far from where Robb was shot.

Charging papers say that when detectives attempted to interview Berhe after his arrest, he called the police "haters" and "all you [expletive] white people."

"He made faces, contorted his lips, spoke in different voices, spit and drooled," an officer wrote in a charging document. "He flexed his arms and challenged detectives to fight."

Because Berhe allegedly made racial threats, prosecutors may consider charging him with malicious harassment, which is the legal term for a hate crime in this state. Berhe is being held in King County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail. He is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday at the King County Courthouse.

If convicted as currently charged, Berhe would face 25 to 31 years in prison. An additional conviction for malicious harassment would add a few months to that sentence, said Dan Donohoe, prosecutor's spokesman.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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