Suspect Arraigned in Deaf Student Slayings

ByABC News
February 14, 2001, 6:59 PM

Feb. 14 -- A 20-year-old freshman charged with murder in the deaths of two fellow deaf Gallaudet University students has confessed to the slayings, police said today.

Joseph Mesa Jr. of Guam, also a Gallaudet student, did not enter a plea or speak today during his arraignment in District of Columbia Superior Court. A sign language interpreter relayed information to Mesa during the proceedings. He was ordered held without bond.

Mesa is charged in the slayings of Benjamin Varner, 19, of San Antonio, Texas, and Eric Plunkett, 19, of Burnsville, Minn. Varner was stabbed to death Feb. 3 in his dorm room in Cogswell Hall on the Gallaudet campus. Eric Plunkett was beaten to death in September in his room on the first floor of Cogswell Hall.

Mesa was arrested Tuesday night and admitted to the slayings, police said.

"The motive in both of these murders was robbery," said District of Columbia Police Chief Charles Ramsey. "We have the utmost confidence in the strength of this case. There wasn't even an argument or a fight that seemed to have led to it or a moment of rage."

Police said Mesa cashed at least one check belonging to Varner after his death and used Plunkett's debit card after his slaying. In a search of Mesa's room, police also said they found bloodstained shoes and clothing.

Ramsey said 18-year-old Thomas Minch of Greenland, N.H., who was charged with Plunkett's murder in October, has now been cleared of suspicion.

Campus Relieved, Yet Heartbroken

Mesa lived in the Krug Hall dormitory next to Cogswell Hall. Though students expressed relief that police had made an arrest, they also grieved because the alleged killer is one of their own.

"We were really hoping that it wasn't a student," said Gallaudet student Jessica Young, using sign language while an interpreter translated. "But there was a suspicion that it was someone inside the community."

"We feel like a family here. And for someone to have committed those murders from our community, it's embarrassing. And at the same time, it's also a scary thought," said another student, Rebecca Goldenbaum, who also communicated through an interpreter.