WASHINGTON - A Virginia man found murdered in Maryland over the weekend was an informant who successfully got a Marine to confess to three murders in prison.
Osama El-Atari had been reported missing by his family last Thursday. Two days later, El Atari was found dead inside his truck on Armstrong Lane in Upper Marlboro.
El-Atari was an ex-con who scammed millions of dollars out of banks in the Washington area. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, but served only just a few of those years after he worked with investigators to get a confession on tape.
Prince George's County police are saying very little about the Leesburg, Virginia man’s murder other than he was found shot to death in his truck.
El-Atari's one-time attorney, Bernie Grimm, said the 37-year-old was in the real estate business and had apparently gone to Prince George’s County for a meeting.
“His brother called me last week and asked if I had heard from him because he hadn't heard from him in days,” said Grimm. “I didn't think it was anything unusual, so I called the numbers I had for him and I got no response. That is when we started to focus our efforts. Then his brother called me over the weekend to say he had been shot and killed.”
El-Atari was known as a smooth talker with a big personality. He could talk to just about anyone. When the feds needed an informant, they turned to him.
"He was that sort of guy, he was just a real likeable guy,” said Grimm. “I'll be honest – I don't like representing informants, people who rat on people and testify on people – I just generally don't like it, but I liked him a lot.”
In August of 2010, the feds wanted to see if El-Atari could get Jorge Torrez, a Marine, to confess on tape to the murder of Amanda Jean Snell, a sailor who was found murdered in Fort Myer.
El-Atari and Torrez were in the same cellblock in Arlington County Jail. The two talked for hours with El-Atari getting Torrez to admit to the vicious crime.
And that was not all. El-Atari was also able to get Torrez to admit to the 2005 killing of two little girls in his hometown of Zion, Illinois. It is a crime in which a suspect had already confessed. Also, DNA evidence pointed to Torrez.
With those confessions, Grimm was able to get El-Atari's sentence greatly reduced.
"They had him stealing well over $70 million,” said Grimm. “So his guidelines, the suggested sentence the judge should give, were between 19 and 21 years. As a result of his cooperation, we walked into court and he gave him time served.”
That was nothing close to his original sentence and El-Atari was a free man once again.
El-Atari testified against Torrez and confirmed the conversations caught on tape.
Torrez was sentenced to death for the murder of Snell and is still awaiting trial for the murders of the two girls in Illinois.
The question now is how does El-Atari's death affect the prosecution in Illinois? Grimm said it is a huge loss for prosecutors.