NYPD: Car believed used in Columbus Circle slaying found

The gunman wanted in the fatal shooting on W. 58th Street between 7th Avenue and Broadway in Manhattan is seen 10 minutes before the shooting in this surveillance video. Handout. (Dec. 11)

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Police have found a car they believe was used in Monday’s slaying near Columbus Circle after a mobile NYPD license plate reader found the vehicle in Queens, Commissioner Ray Kelly said Wednesday afternoon.

Kelly was guarded in his comments but indicated the vehicle was rented from Avis. He wouldn't comment on reports that a couple who had rented the car were being questioned.

The license plate reader is one of a number of high-tech advances the department has been using in its counterterrorism effort and in other investigations.

Police said the Lincoln used by the killers was identified through a video image of its license plate. Additional surveillance cameras spotted what was believed to be the car exiting Manhattan at the Midtown Tunnel about 15 minutes after Brandon Lincoln Woodard was gunned down on 58th Street.

This comes as investigators on two coasts teamed up Wednesday to search for a suspect and a motive in the execution-style slaying of a Los Angeles man in broad daylight in midtown Manhattan.

A still image from a video of a gunman police say walked up behind another man and shot him once in the back of the head on a busy midtown street in broad daylight near Columbus Circle. Photo Credit: DCPI

Police officials in New York said they were in touch with authorities in Los Angeles to try to get a clearer picture of why anyone would want Woodard dead — and take extreme measures to make it happen, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

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A video and photograph released Tuesday show a gunman pulling out his pistol seconds before killing a 31-year-old entertainment promoter near Columbus Circle -- using a gun that matches one used in a 2009 Queens shooting, police said.

The video, shown by the NYPD, reveals the gunman pulling the hood of his jacket over his head before calmly walking up to the victim, who appears to either be typing or reading a text message -- possibly from the killer. The photo shows the gunman taking out the pistol just before the Monday killing.

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said police believe they have also obtained footage of the killer's getaway car, a Lincoln MKZ sedan, leaving Manhattan through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel at 2:15 p.m. after paying cash at the toll plaza. He said investigators now have the Lincoln plate number and have other footage tracking the vehicle after that.

Police spokesman Paul Browne also said ballistics testing on the bullet's casing shows the gun was the same 9-mm semiautomatic pistol used Nov. 22, 2009, to fire 12 shots at a home on Mangin Avenue in Queens. No one was hurt.

Brandon Lincoln Woodard, 31, of Los Angeles, was shot and killed in midtown, police say. Photo Credit: Hermosa Beach Police Department, 2009

Browne said the two men involved were never identified.

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The new leads were announced as detectives delved into the entertainment business connections of the victim, a Los Angeles law student and entertainment promoter, law enforcement sources said.

A source said police are also looking at whether Woodard was involved in drug dealing and whether that played a role in his death.

One close friend, Jamal White, 33, of Los Angeles, said: "Did he have associates who maybe weren't pillars of the community? Yes, he did. He did run with some people who led riskier lifestyles . . . involved in drugs, things of that nature.

"But he also ran with the cream of the crop . . . the most respected African-Americans in the community," added White, who said his friend did legal and promotion work for "entertainers, rappers, a lot of prominent people."

The identity of the gunman and his getaway driver in Monday's shooting remained unknown as investigators interviewed friends and professional associates of Woodard, who is part of a prominent family in Southern California, according to a law enforcement source.

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The footage suggests the gunman was waiting for Woodard, who about 30 minutes earlier had checked out from a Manhattan hotel. A source said the shooter had been roaming West 58th Street for at least 40 minutes before the killing.

In the video, the gunman is seen getting out of his car at around 1:48 p.m. Woodard overtakes him, walking westbound about 10 minutes later, and appears to glance over his shoulder at him.

The shooter then places the gun to the back of Woodard's head and, while looking away, fires a single shot. He then climbs back into the Lincoln, which merges into traffic.

A woman witnessed the killing and was being interviewed by police Tuesday, a law enforcement source said.

The source said police are investigating the possibility that Woodard was exchanging text messages with his killer or an accomplice, who may have lured him to New York and texted him about meeting just before his death. Kelly said police were analyzing messages on that phone and two others found on him and in his luggage.

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The video also shows the gunman exchanging words with the Lincoln's driver shortly before the killing.

Woodard was a hip-hop promoter and the father of a 4-year-old daughter. He was laying the groundwork for a career in entertainment law, White said.

Woodard's father, Lincoln, 72, of Maryland, said: "He was a good son, a loving son. This is a total shock."

Woodard's mother, Sandra McBeth-Wellington, a real estate mortgage broker in Los Angeles, said her son planned to stay in Manhattan for two days to visit a friend and she was to pick him up at the airport at 5 p.m. Monday. "My son had no enemies. We have no idea why anyone would want to hurt him," she said.

Woodard graduated from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles in 2003, a school spokesman said. He had transferred to the University of West Los Angeles Law School from Whittier Law School, said his stepfather, Rod Wellington.

"His family is very well-known in the black community here, very well-respected, so this is a complete shock to a lot of people," White said.

White said Woodard and several mutual friends attended a party Saturday night in L.A. to watch the boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez.

He decided not to attend at the last minute.

"I wish I had gone, because maybe I would have known if he needed help," said White. "He was doing great things with his life."

Woodward had a criminal record dating to 2004 that included a summons for alleged battery that year, conviction for stealing from a supermarket in 2008, and a pending cocaine possession charge from April.

Records show an April arrest for cocaine possession -- a charge to which he pleaded not guilty and was due in court for on Jan. 22.

Court records show he pleaded no contest in December 2009 to a misdemeanor charge of hit-and-run driving in a Los Angeles suburb. A judge sentenced him to three years' probation and one day in jail.

In 2008, he pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges of grand theft of property for stealing from two food stores, court records show. He was sentenced to nine days in jail and 200 hours of community service.

Authorities also issued Woodard a summons for misdemeanor battery in September 2004 after a backstage scuffle with a security officer at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, records show.

He was arrested in April 2008 in Las Vegas for failing to appear on the battery charges, records show. He pleaded guilty, was given credit for time served and released, the records show.

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