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Cops: Person Of Interest Being Questioned In Connection With Midtown Assassination

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly Says Victim May Have Been Lured Into Ambush
In this surveillance image released by police, investigators say a suspect can be seen walking up behind his victim moments before firing a fatal shot. (credit: NYPD)

In this surveillance image released by police, investigators say a suspect can be seen walking up behind his victim moments before firing a fatal shot. (credit: NYPD)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – A person of interest was being questioned Wednesday in connection with the execution-style murder of a man in Midtown on Monday.

Sources told CBS 2 the person is not the shooter involved in the brazen slaying of 31-year-old Brandon Lincoln Woodard of Los Angeles. However, Derricke Dennis reported police believe the individual being questioned may have valuable information about the deadly incident.

Based on surveillance video, detectives suspect  Woodard was lured into the Monday afternoon ambush shortly after he checked out of a hotel in nearby Columbus Circle.

“It certainly appears to have been planned,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

Meanwhile, the killer had arrived at least 30 minutes before the gunfire erupted in a neighborhood that was teeming with car and pedestrian traffic.

The man, who appears to be bald and has a beard, could be seen exiting the passenger side of a parked car and pacing as he waited, police said.

After Woodard got there, he checked his phone and walked back and forth.

“He appears to be looking for an address. He’s looking at his phone and looking up,” Kelly said. “He then looks over his shoulder. The shooter is right behind him but there’s no indication that he recognizes him.”

In a surveillance photo released Tuesday, the gunman is seen walking up behind Woodard and pulling a semi-automatic pistol from his pocket moments before he fired a single deadly round, police said.

After shooting Woodard, the suspect then calmly strolled to the corner of 58th Street and Seventh Avenue, hopped into the passenger seat of a waiting Lincoln sedan and drove away.

A vehicle fitting the description of the sedan was last seen going through the Midtown Tunnel, Kelly said.  The NYPD announced Wednesday afternoon that the getaway car was found in Queens.

“The car was recovered by using our license plate reader,” Kelly said.

Earlier, sources told CBS 2 that investigators questioned the owners of the vehicle, who said they loaned it out. The owners are not considered suspects, sources said. It also does not appear the car was loaned directly to the shooter, sources said.

The rental car was being swept for fingerprints and fibers Wednesday night.

Investigators were also focusing on Woodard’s movements. Police said Woodard had arrived in New York on Sunday night, but had bought no return plane ticket to Los Angeles.

When Woodard checked out of the hotel, he told the staff he would be back, Kelly said.

“He said words to the effect of, ‘I’ll be back for my luggage’ and gave no further instructions, or no information on what he was going to do with the luggage,” Kelly said.

Woodard had also been spotted with a mystery woman. Police said  the two watched a football game and went out to dinner on Sunday.

Ballistics evidence also pointed to a possible lead. Kelly said the 9mm semi-automatic used to kill Woodard was the same weapon used in a shooting in Queens three years ago.

“There is a system in place called ‘brass catcher,'” Kelly said. “It matches the brass that is ejected from semi-automatic handguns. We have a match from a shooting that took place in 2009 in the 113th Precinct, which is southeast Queens, and this shooting.”

Investigators were also examining three phones carried by Woodard when he flew to New York City on Sunday.

Police officials in New York said they have been in touch with authorities in Los Angeles as they try to get a clearer picture of a motive for the shooting.

Sandra and Rodney Wellington, Woodard’s mother and step-father, released a statement Tuesday asking anyone with information to call police.

They called Woodard a devoted father and loving son who was a “gentle and generous young man” beloved by his family and friends.

“There are no words to express our shock and sadness in the face of our family’s horrendous tragedy. We eagerly await justice for Brandon,” the statement said.

Woodard graduated from Campbell Hall High School and earned a Bachelor’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, the statement said.

Kelly described Woodard as a promoter but had no further details.

Authorities said Woodard had a history of run-ins with the law in both Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

“He was arrested once for robbery and several narcotics-related arrests,” Kelly said. “Also a hit-and-run arrest — a total of 20 overall, but he spent very little time in jail.”

He had been due back in court on Jan. 22 following his arrest by LA County Sheriff’s deputies in West Hollywood in April on a felony cocaine possession charge. He had previously pleaded not guilty.

Court records show that in December 2009, Woodard pleaded no contest in the Los Angeles suburb of Torrance to a misdemeanor charge of hit-and-run driving. He was sentenced to three years of probation and a day in jail. However, his probation was terminated in January 2011.

In 2008, he pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges of grand theft of property. Prosecutors said he stole items on Feb. 26 of that year from a Whole Foods Market and a Gelson’s in Beverly Hills. He was sentenced to nine days of jail and 200 hours of community service.

Woodard also was issued a misdemeanor battery summons in September 2004 after a backstage scuffle with a security officer at a concert at the Mandalay Bay resort on the Las Vegas Strip.

The records show Woodard failed to appear in Las Vegas Justice Court in October 2004 and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was arrested in April 2008 in Las Vegas, based on the warrant. After pleading guilty, he was given credit for time served and released.

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