Man Changes Course, Seeks Trial in Couple's Killing

Virginia Spevak, 67, a former teacher, and her husband, Michael Spevak, 68, a psychiatrist, were killed in their home in the Chevy Chase area of the District on Nov. 20.
Virginia Spevak, 67, a former teacher, and her husband, Michael Spevak, 68, a psychiatrist, were killed in their home in the Chevy Chase area of the District on Nov. 20. (Family Photo - Family Photo)
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By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 9, 2009

A District man charged with killing a Northwest Washington couple in November abruptly changed his mind in the middle of pleading guilty to second-degree murder yesterday and demanded a trial.

Peiro Fuentes Hernandez, 21, appeared before D.C. Superior Court Judge Michael L. Rankin as part of a plea agreement he had signed with prosecutors. Fuentes Hernandez is charged in the deaths of Michael Spevak, 68, a psychiatrist, and his wife, Virginia, 67, a former teacher.

When Rankin asked Fuentes Hernandez why he was in his courtroom, the defendant replied, "To plead guilty to two counts of second-degree murder."

Rankin spent about 30 minutes asking a series of questions to ensure that Fuentes Hernandez was aware of his rights and knew he was facing at least 10 years in prison and deportation.

Fuentes Hernandez said he has lived in the District for about a year and earned his GED in Houston, where he lived briefly. He said he was trained as a plumber.

He previously told court officials that he came to this country as a refugee from El Salvador after Hurricane Mitch in 1998. He also has told police he was a member of the MC Gang, known as Master Criminals.

But Rankin was unconvinced that Fuentes Hernandez understood the decision to plead guilty. Rankin explained the charges by using a plumbing and pipe analogy. He explained the two murder charges as being meshed like an elbow pipe fitting a straight pipe.

"It is my duty to make sure you are clear on what you are doing and the consequences of what you are doing," Rankin said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Sines said Fuentes Hernandez carried a metal baton-like weapon during a robbery of the Spevaks' home in the 5300 block of Belt Road NW. She said he and an accomplice, armed with a gun and a knife, tied the couple up with telephone cords in their living room. A third assailant has not been apprehended.

Sines said the couple were killed because the intruders realized the Spevaks could identify them. Then she demonstrated how Fuentes Hernandez allegedly beat the couple with the baton. Both victims died from sharp blunt force trauma to the head and neck inflicted by a bladed weapon, according to the charging documents.

"I participated, but they can't say I actually killed them when I hit them," Fuentes Hernandez said. "Either way I'm going to get time." At his initial court hearing on Nov. 27, he pleaded not guilty.

At times, Fuentes Hernandez, a small-framed man with a goatee, bowed his head and seemed confused by Sines's and Rankin's statements. "He's in a difficult position to understand, your honor," said Arthur Ago, Fuentes Hernandez's court-appointed attorney.

Rankin explained the concept of reasonable doubt and said it is up to the prosecutor to persuade a jury that the defendant is guilty.

"Do you wish to plead guilty, or do you want a trial?" Rankin asked him again.

"I want a trial," he replied without consulting his attorney.

Preliminary hearings are scheduled today for Fuentes Hernandez and his co-defendant, Angela Hernandez, who is not related.

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