Mistrial In Fairfax Murder, Rape Case
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
After waiting nearly two decades to hear who killed Rachael A. Raver and Warren H. Fulton III, their families finally got their answer two weeks ago in a Fairfax County courtroom. But yesterday, the convictions of Alfredo R. Prieto were wiped away after a juror told the judge he was pressured into convicting Prieto of capital murder.
Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Dennis J. Smith reluctantly declared a mistrial, ending the trial in its sixth week, and the case will have to be retried. The juror, Aldo Davico Jr., who lashed out at his fellow jurors in a typewritten letter to Smith, quickly left the courthouse without commenting.
The 11 remaining jurors met with the families of Raver and Fulton, who were shot to death in a vacant lot in December 1988. Raver was also raped, and it was the DNA from that encounter that led to Prieto's arrest.
"My heart, and all of our hearts, goes out to all the families," juror Shane T. Rogers said. "It was wonderful just to hug them and tell them that we would never forget their children."
The jury knew that Prieto was on death row in California for the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl in 1990. But, until yesterday, it did not know the details of another rape-murder, in Arlington County in 1988, of Veronica "Tina" Jefferson, for which Prieto faces another trial. The jurors met Jefferson's mother, Velma, who watched the trial along with Raver's mother and Fulton's parents.
The jury convicted Prieto on June 18 of two counts of capital murder, one count of rape and three other felonies. The trial then moved into a second stage, in which Prieto's attorneys tried to prove that he was mentally retarded. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that a retarded defendant cannot be executed. If the jury had found he was not retarded, then the trial would have moved to the penalty phase and a decision on whether Prieto should receive a death sentence.
Closing arguments in the second stage were held Wednesday. The jury deliberated for seven hours Thursday and took Friday off. After two hours Monday, the foreman sent a note saying the jury appeared deadlocked. Davico sent a second note that his decision "this time" was "firm and final and deliberation has crossed the line into peer pressure. Please end this deliberation."
That note sent the trial into turmoil. After 90 minutes of consideration, Smith called the jurors in and told them to go to lunch, then try to reach a verdict again.
But Davico evidently went to a computer and printed out a single-spaced letter that denounced his fellow jurors, comparing them to "a pack of lions protecting their kill," and said there was "absolutely no evidence provided or proven beyond a reasonable doubt" that Prieto had committed murder.
Davico, a 37-year-old pharmaceutical salesman, said the prosecution, led by Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., had proved that Raver had been raped, because Prieto's semen was found, but nothing else. Prosecutors acknowledged that DNA was the crux of their case; there were no witnesses or other direct evidence tying Prieto to the shootings of Raver and Fulton.
Davico said he regretted going along with the rest of the panel on the guilty verdict and would not go along with them on the determination regarding mental retardation. He felt Prieto was retarded; the others did not, he said.
Smith sent the jury home after receiving Davico's letter. He reconvened yesterday, asking attorneys on both sides what he should do.