Suspect Guilty of 1988 Double Slaying Near Reston
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
A Fairfax County jury convicted Alfredo R. Prieto yesterday on two counts of capital murder and four other felonies in the 1988 slayings of Rachael A. Raver and Warren H. Fulton III in a partly wooded lot near Reston.
The jury had deliberated for about 90 minutes Wednesday, then took the next four days off because of a juror's illness. When deliberations resumed yesterday, the jury needed only about 2 1/2 hours to find Prieto guilty of rape, two gun charges and the grand larceny of Raver's car, as well as the capital murder charges. Prieto's attorneys repeatedly argued that the main proof of Prieto's guilt -- his DNA at the scene -- did not prove he had shot anyone.
The trial promptly moved into the second of three possible stages. Prieto's attorneys now hope to convince the jury that Prieto is mentally retarded. Under a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, a mentally retarded defendant cannot be executed. The retardation phase of the trial is believed to be the first such proceeding in Virginia since the Supreme Court ruling, Virginia Capital Public Defender Joe Flood said yesterday.
The burden of proof now shifts to the defense, but the theoretical bar it must clear is lower. Although prosecutors must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the defense must prove retardation by only a preponderance of the evidence, or "more likely than not."
If the jury rejects Prieto's claim that he is retarded, the trial will move to the penalty phase. Prosecutors then would try to prove that Prieto would be a future danger if he is not executed. The jury would hear details of a third Northern Virginia rape-murder from 1988 -- the slaying of Veronica "Tina" Jefferson in Arlington -- in which Prieto is also charged. The jury was told during the selection process that Prieto is on death row in California for the 1990 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl, and they would learn more about that as well.
Prieto's attorneys would introduce evidence, such as his troubled upbringing in El Salvador, that might mitigate the case for execution. The jury began hearing some of that evidence yesterday as part of the defense's argument of his "mild high-functioning retardation."
Prieto, 41, was living in Arlington in 1988. Raver and Fulton, both 22, who were dating, were last seen leaving a District sports bar shortly after midnight Dec. 4, 1988. Their bodies were found just off Hunter Mill Road on Dec. 6, 1988. Raver had been raped.
Police had no suspects until 2005, when a cold DNA hit suddenly produced Prieto's name as a match to the DNA from semen left at the crime scene. Although Prieto had been in jail or prison for 15 years, Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. persuaded California to send Prieto to Virginia, reasoning that Virginia could put him through the legal process and execute him in five years, while California expects to take 10 years or more.
Prieto did not make any statements to police and did not testify in his own defense. Police do not know how or where he might have abducted Raver and Fulton.
Defense attorney Jonathan Shapiro said that Prieto grew up in poverty, was repeatedly exposed to pesticides, showed poor developmental skills and had an IQ of 66.
Horan noted that Prieto is fluent in English and Spanish, wrote notes to his jailers demanding "due process," conversed at length with a Fairfax detective about world affairs on his flight to Virginia and made extensive use of the law library at San Quentin State Prison in California.
The retardation phase of the trial is expected to last into next week.