The television show “On the Case with Paula Zahn,” on the Investigation Discovery channel, focused Sunday night on the 1988 murders of Rachael Raver and Warren Fulton outside Reston, and the highly similar slaying of Tina Jefferson in Arlington. Of the many shows and films that have been done on cases I’ve covered in my 27 years of reporting on crime, this one was the worst.
That’s because this show completely omitted the names and actions of the Fairfax County detectives and prosecutors who solved the case, convicted the murderer and revealed Alfredo Prieto to be a brutal serial killer.
For the record: Fairfax cold case homicide Detectives Robert Murphy and Steve Milefsky kept resubmitting the unknown DNA to a national data bank until it finally got a hit; and then-Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. and his chief deputy, now Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh, made the decision to prosecute Prieto even though he was already in prison, and stuck with the case through three arduous jury trials.
I hereby permit “On the Case” to post the above information as a corrective postscript to their otherwise baffling show, a show for which I was interviewed and provided a detailed chronology of the case. I’ve asked them how they could do an hour-long show and not mention Fairfax’s role in solving the case, and will post their response.
To recap: Tina Jefferson was found raped and fatally shot in Arlington in May 1988. Rachael Raver was found raped and fatally shot, and her boyfriend Warren Fulton also fatally shot, in a vacant lot on Hunter Mill Road near Reston in December 1988. In 2000, DNA indicated that Jefferson and Raver were raped by the same man.
In 2005, Fairfax cold case detectives Murphy and Milefsky resubmitted the DNA, as they had been doing periodically for years. This time, however, they got a match. Prieto’s DNA had recently been entered into the nationwide DNA data bank, more than 10 years after he was convicted of raping and fatally shooting a woman in California in 1990. It matched the Jefferson and Raver cases.
Ballistics linked the gun used in the Jefferson-Fulton-Raver slayings to a fourth homicide in Prince William County. And when California authorities began reexamining Prieto, they found that his DNA linked him to another rape-double homicide from 1990. Then, the ballistics from that case linked the gun to yet another double homicide, of an older couple, also in 1990. Combined with the California rape-murder for which he was convicted, that made nine homicides and four rapes linked to Prieto in a two-year period. That is quite a campaign of evil. The Paula Zahn show also elected not to make that part of their story.
“On the Case” came to town recently, and some of the key players — the Fairfax detectives and prosecutors — declined to be interviewed. I’m told they did this out of respect for the family of Warren Fulton, who also declined to be interviewed. Veronica Raver and Velda Jefferson, the saintly mothers of Rachael Raver and Tina Jefferson, were interviewed and are heart-breaking, as is Deidre Raver, Rachael’s sister, who pushed for many years to get these cases solved.
So the Fairfax authorities declined to participate. Fine. But that means you delete them from the history of the case? The decision by Horan and Morrogh to prosecute a man who was on death row in California was somewhat controversial, particularly when they were forced to retry him twice. But they did it, they won three times, aided by Murphy and Milefsky corralling witnesses and evidence that was 20 years old, and they obtained two death sentences for Prieto. They also had to overcome the extensive efforts of Peter Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro, two of the top defense attorneys in this region, who fought fiercely to save Prieto’s life.
Former Fairfax homicide detective James Mowatt, who originally handled the case in 1988, was interviewed, and he dominates the show. He’s a good guy and he worked the case hard. But he left Fairfax in the early 1990s, which the show forgets to mention. Arlington’s original detectives, Robert Carrig and Gay Mercer, and cold case Detective Rosa Ortiz are interviewed briefly and given their due.
But the show meanders down various dead ends (Raver’s car found in New York! No evidentiary value. A sheriff's deputy spotted a man and Jefferson together in Arlington! Ultimately, worthless.) before getting to Prieto at the 52-minute mark. Then, a DNA hit magically occurs out of nowhere, a generic courtroom (with an eight-seat jury box) is shown, and Prieto is sentenced to death. Fairfax County never mentioned. Show over.
Zahn concludes the show by saying one can go to the show’s Web site for more information on the case. But all that’s there is this, one paragraph which misspells Raver’s first name twice, says the “killer left almost no clues” (just his semen), and notes that the mystery led police “to an evil beyond imagination,” presumably the string of nine homicides and four rapes in two years. Unfortunately, the viewer was not led there as well.