(Updated at 4:00 p.m.) James Sylvester Caroline pleaded guilty this afternoon to the murder of Columbia Pike jewelry store owner Tommy Kin Mo Wong.
Caroline entered the plea before Arlington Circuit Court Judge William T. Newman. Newman sentenced Caroline to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus an additional three years for a weapons charge. The plea removed the possibility of Caroline facing the death penalty.
As part of the plea deal, Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos read a statement of facts about the case.
Wong was born in Hong Kong but eventually emigrated Northern Virginia, married and raised a family. After working for years in the jewelry business, he purchased the store at 3219 Columbia Pike, named it Capital Jewelers, and began selling and repairing jewelry and watches.
An industrious man with a well-established daily routine, Wong’s family became worried when he didn’t return home after work on Friday, July 27, 2012. They called police, who were dispatched to the store, and then his wife and daughter drove to the store themselves.
After receiving permission from the family, firefighters broke the front window of the store to allow police to gain entry. They found Mr. Wong, deceased from a gunshot wound, in a rear hallway.
Video surveillance from the store and the nearby Days Inn, obtained during the extensive investigation that followed, showed the tragic scene and its aftermath unfold.
A man in reflective vest, later identified as Caroline, was seen entering the store and looking at the display cases with Mr. Wong. The man then pulled out a .40-.45 caliber silver handgun, and ordered Mr. Wong to place jewelry in a bag. Mr. Wong complied, then started backing away. The man shot him once in the chest and left the store, prosecutors said.
The man in the vest was seen from the Days Inn getting into a Ford Explorer with the bag of jewelry, then driving away.
Police released surveillance images from the store, which led to a tip that the vest belonged to Parkinson Construction, which was doing masonry work on the new Wakefield High School. After police visited the job site, they received a call from the company’s attorney, informing them that one of their workers, James Sylvester Caroline, had recently applied for a transfer from the Wakefield job.
Caroline, who was on parole for credit card fraud, was found to drive a Ford Explorer. Police obtained a warrant and, after Caroline left Wakefield on Aug. 1, 2012, he was pulled over by the Arlington police tactical unit on nearby King Street. The 53-year-old was arrested and held on an unrelated probation violation.
Detectives reportedly found papers in Sylvester’s car with the addresses of other jewelry stores which were recently robbed. They found a pocket watch, believed to be stolen from Capital Jewelers. And they found a photo on Caroline’s cell phone depicting him with the silver handgun.
Upon further investigation, police found that Caroline had sold a watch at a pawn shop in Maryland 2-2.5 hours after the robbery on July 27. The watch, a Breitling, was determined to have been stolen from Capital Jewelers thanks to a serial number match.
Caroline displayed little emotion during the proceedings. With a team of three attorneys by his side, he quietly answered Judge Newman’s questions, affirming his agreement to and understanding of the plea.
Caroline’s family was in the courtroom for the judge’s sentence, but Wong’s family decided not to attend.
This article will be updated