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Lawsuit alleges negligence in hiring of maintenance man accused of torturing resident

BALTIMORE — April Hurley’s attacker entered her apartment after identifying himself as the building maintenance man — a job he should never have obtained, according to a lawsuit filed Monday that accuses the property owner and management company of engaging in negligent hiring practices.

Once inside the apartment, Jason Billingsley tortured Hurley and her companion, Jonte Gilmore, according to police and the lawsuit. The victims escaped by climbing out a basement window after being set on fire, the complaint says.

Days later came the brutal killing of Baltimore tech CEO Pava LaPere in September, which police also linked to Billingsley. He was ultimately arrested and charged in both cases.

But what if he’d never had the opportunity to commit that first attack, attorneys for Hurley and Gilmore asked during a news conference Monday morning.

“Jason Billingsley acted alone but had an accomplice. That accomplice was the negligence and incompetence of the companies that hired him,” said attorney Andrew O’Connell. “By allowing this violent criminal to slip through the cracks, they not only endangered the safety of our clients but also shattered the tranquility of what it means to be home.”

The lawsuit alleges that the companies failed to complete an appropriate background check on Billingsley, whose criminal record included sex offenses and violence.

The west Baltimore apartment building is owned by Property Pals LLC and managed by Eden’s Homes LLC, according to the lawsuit. Property Pals didn’t respond to an email seeking comment Monday. Eden’s Homes didn’t respond to a call and text message. The Maryland Office of the Public Defender, which represents Billingsley in the criminal cases, also didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment. He is also a named defendant in the civil suit.

The night of her attack, Billingsley identified himself as building maintenance and said there was a flood in the kitchen, according to the complaint. As Hurley walked up the stairs, Billingsley overpowered her, beat her with a gun, bound her with duct tape, raped her and slit her throat with a serrated knife, the complaint says. He also handcuffed Gilmore and forced him into a closet before dousing both victims in gasoline and setting them on fire, according to police and the lawsuit.

Police later found a backpack and other items in the bushes outside the house, including duct tape, a bleach container, a gas can and a lighter.

“The fact that I’m sitting here in front of you guys today is honestly a miracle,” Hurley said during the news conference. “Jason Billingsley literally tried to take my life. He tried to take my life, and this could have been prevented.”

Billingsley was released from prison in October 2022 after serving a shortened sentence for a 2013 rape because he earned good behavior credits behind bars.

LaPere, who founded a tech startup from her dorm room at Johns Hopkins University and was named to Forbes’ 30 under 30 list for social impact, died from strangulation and blunt force trauma. In a bail review hearing following Billingsley’s arrest, prosecutors said he had admitted to beating LaPere with a brick. He gained entry to her downtown Baltimore apartment building after waving her over to its glass door, but there’s no reason to believe they knew each other, according to police.

Her body was found on the building’s rooftop six days after the attack on Hurley and Gilmore.

Billingsley had been quickly identified as a suspect in the rape and arson case. Baltimore police said they were actively pursuing him, but they didn’t immediately alert the public because they didn’t think he was committing “random” acts of violence.

Attorneys for Hurley and Gilmore criticized the department’s decision, saying they believe police failed to take the case seriously because it occurred in a disenfranchised neighborhood and the victims were people of color.

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