NEW YORK (AP) — Police on Thursday continued an aggressive manhunt for a gunman and a getaway driver who ambushed and killed a Los Angeles man in midtown Manhattan, saying they’re following multiple leads and have searched the victim’s home for clues.
The push came amid published reports that the New York Police Department had identified the driver. Officials dismissed the reports, saying they consider the driver a possible witness who has run the risk of working with a stone-cold triggerman.
The reports, “though erroneous, nevertheless (put) the driver’s life in real jeopardy because an accomplished killer may want to eliminate him as a potential witness before he’s in police custody,” NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.
Earlier, Commissioner Raymond Kelly also insisted police hadn’t identified any suspects in the execution-style slaying of Brandon Lincoln Woodard on a street about a block from Central Park or determined why he was targeted.
“We’re not in a position to state a motive,” Kelly said following a groundbreaking ceremony at Manhattan College.
Kelly confirmed that police had executed a search warrant at Woodard’s California home, but he refused to say if anything useful was found.
Police want to know who lured Woodard to the block where he was ambushed on Monday afternoon. A security video shows Woodard walking back and forth and looking down at his smartphone moments before his death, suggesting he’d been directed there by text or email.
Other footage shows the gunman walking up behind Woodard and, without a word, pressing the barrel of a pistol to the back of his head. In one fluid motion, the killer fires one round and immediately slips into a rented Lincoln sedan as a getaway driver pulls away.
A pedestrian on the sidewalk who witnessed the killing is visible in the video. She summoned police but told them she didn’t get a good look at the gunman, who was careful to pull the hood of his jacket over his head.
Other cameras captured the car fleeing through the Midtown Tunnel to Queens, where it was found, unoccupied and parked, by police using high-tech license plate readers.
Police were still examining three phones carried by Woodard when he flew to New York on Sunday for reasons that are unclear. Two were found on his body and one was in luggage he left at his hotel.
The 31-year-old Woodard has been described variously as a promoter, would-be lawyer and family man. He also had an extensive arrest record, leading investigators to theorize he could have been involved in a dispute over drugs or money.
He had been due back in court Jan. 22 following his April arrest by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies in West Hollywood on a felony cocaine possession charge. He had previously pleaded not guilty.
Woodard attended the Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa for two semesters in the fall of 2010 and the spring of 2011.
He had arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport at 5 p.m. Sunday, checked into a hotel on Columbus Circle, near where he was shot, and had dinner with a friend who lives in Queens, police said.
On Monday, Woodard checked out of the hotel but left his bags, telling the staff, “I’ll be back for my luggage.”
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