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Suspect says boyfriend was shot during struggle in their Va. home

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 1, 2010; B01

The woman accused of killing D.C. Goth scene fixture Dirk Smiler last month at their Annandale home says the shooting occurred during a struggle in which Smiler was strangling her, her attorney said Wednesday during a Fairfax County court hearing.

Smiler, 37, was shot once in the forehead with a vintage bolt-action rifle in the bedroom he shared with Cara Cottle, 31, lawyers on both sides said. Cottle was arrested Tuesday on a charge of second-degree murder and was arraigned Wednesday in Fairfax Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court because the couple had been living together.

Within hours of the Feb. 15 shooting, Cottle and her mother contacted defense lawyer Peter D. Greenspun, Greenspun said. On Wednesday, he asked substitute Fairfax Judge Edward V. O'Connor Jr. to release Cottle on bond. Greenspun said that Cottle had not fled in the six weeks since the shooting and was therefore not a flight risk and that she wasn't a danger to the community because the shooting was a domestic incident.

O'Connor declined to set bond for Cottle. Greenspun said he would appeal to Fairfax Circuit Court, a motion that is to be heard Thursday.

New details emerged Wednesday about Cottle and the investigation into Smiler's slaying.

Smiler was a sommelier who enjoyed great renown in the Goth and nightclub circles of Washington, and Cottle apparently moved in some of those circles.

Until she was arrested, Cottle worked for almost two years as a production manager for conservative fundraiser Richard Viguerie, who rose to prominence in the 1980s with his direct-mail fundraising for Ronald Reagan. He was recently credited by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) with providing crucial help for his election victory.

Cottle's mother, Viola Shields, is listed as vice president of administration for Viguerie's American Target Advertising in Manassas, and she and Mark J. Fitzgibbons, the company's president of corporate and legal affairs, attended Cottle's bond hearing.

Shields and Fitzgibbons declined to comment after the hearing. Viguerie did not return a call seeking comment. Greenspun would not discuss whether Viguerie was helping to pay for Cottle's defense.

Greenspun said Cottle served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years and was honorably discharged as a sergeant. He said that her first husband was killed in a traffic accident and that she had two children with her second husband, from whom she is divorced. He lives in North Carolina and has sole custody of the children. Greenspun said Cottle recently traveled there "to try to visit with her kids," but he did not say whether she had had any contact with them.

Smiler and Cottle began living together last spring. In November, Cottle rented a house on Little River Turnpike near Northern Virginia Community College, Greenspun said. Four other people also rented rooms there, but Cottle had the credit history and employment to secure the lease, Greenspun said.

The gun that killed Smiler was an antique, Greenspun said, given to Smiler as a gift years ago. Greenspun said that it was a World War II-era bolt-action rifle and that no ballistics tests had been performed on it.

"It was Mr. Smiler's weapon," Greenspun said, "and he was the one who knew or controlled whether it was loaded."

On the night of Feb. 15, Greenspun said, Smiler and Cottle argued, then went to their basement bedroom. Minutes later, a shot was fired. "Literally seconds later," Greenspun said, "Cara came upstairs, naked and covered in blood."

He also said: "Cara was bruised. Cara has finger marks around her neck from where he was strangling her at the time the gun went off. . . . Tragically, the gun went off, and Mr. Smiler was struck in the forehead area."

Greenspun did not specifically say that Cottle acted in self-defense or that Cottle pulled the trigger. He said that "given the nature of the rifle," a long gun, "it was clearly obtained by Mr. Smiler," implying that during a struggle, Smiler fired the gun either accidentally or suicidally.

Greenspun said that toxicology reports will probably show that Smiler was significantly intoxicated and that Cottle was responding to "a much larger male strangling her." Cottle is 4 foot 9, and Smiler was about a foot taller, Greenspun said.

Fairfax Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Mark J. Sullivan said Cottle should not be released.

Sullivan said that Cottle was "the violent one in the relationship" and that "she was the one that got in the argument with the victim." He continued: "She's the one that struck the victim. By all accounts, she was the violent one, and he was nonviolent."

Sullivan said the vintage rifle "was placed almost point-blank or right at his head. She grabbed the trigger. . . . She ended his life."

O'Connor said that Cottle had been in treatment for substance abuse since the shooting and that combined with the seriousness of the charge, "I find she is a danger to the community."

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