Slayings Trial Will Be Racing The Clock
Monday, June 4, 2007
In a moonlit field 30 miles east of Los Angeles 17 years ago, Alfredo R. Prieto raped and fatally shot a 15-year-old girl. He was arrested soon after, convicted and sentenced to death.
Now police suspect that he is a serial killer.
Prieto has been charged with killing three people in Northern Virginia and raping two of them. In 1988, a woman in Arlington County, Veronica "Tina" Jefferson, and a woman near Reston, Rachael A. Raver, were raped and fatally shot, and DNA at both scenes matched Prieto's.
So while Prieto's California appeals slog forward, a Fairfax County jury will begin hearing this week about the slayings of Raver and Warren H. Fulton III, who were shot once in the back in a field along Hunter Mill Road in December 1988. Police think Raver was raped after she was shot.
If the jury finds Prieto guilty, it will also consider whether he raped and killed Jefferson near McKinley Elementary School in Arlington in May 1988 as it decides whether to impose a second death sentence on Prieto, now 41.
Virginia authorities believe they can convict Prieto, handle his appeals and execute him before his California appeals are exhausted. Although he has been on death row for 15 years, his appeals are expected to take at least 10 more years. Fairfax prosecutors believe they can move Prieto from trial to tomb in five years.
The case promises to be a landmark for a number of people:
· The families of Fulton, Raver and Jefferson have waited 19 years for an answer to who killed their children, their siblings, their friends. "It's been 18, 19 years of weirdness," said Dan Gutstein, a college friend of Fulton's who was with the couple at a District bar shortly before they disappeared. Various developments in the case in recent years, including the discovery of Prieto two years ago, provided hope, but "all of that was in the abstract," Gutstein said. "The trial makes it real."
· For Prieto, a date with the death chamber could move much closer. The average stay on California's death row is more than 17 years, and more prisoners die of old age or disease than lethal injection, officials said. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, Virginia has executed 98 prisoners. California has executed 13 and has by far the largest death row in the country: 660 people. Virginia has 20 prisoners on death row; none have been there as long as 10 years.