Convicted killer Alfredo Prieto returning to Fairfax County court for resentencing

Alfredo R. Prieto.
Alfredo R. Prieto. (AP)
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By Tom Jackman
Monday, September 6, 2010

Alfredo R. Prieto, convicted of three murders and two rapes, will return to a Fairfax County courtroom for a sentencing trial Tuesday morning, when Fairfax prosecutors will try for a third time to obtain the death penalty.

Prieto, 44, was already on death row in California for the 1990 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl when DNA evidence matched him to the rape and murder of Rachael A. Raver, and the murder of her boyfriend, Warren H. Fulton III, both 22, in a vacant lot outside Reston in December 1988.

Fairfax prosecutors extradited Prieto in 2006, under the theory that Virginia could convict and execute him while his appeals in California dragged on. He has also been charged in the May 1988 rape and killing of Veronica "Tina" Jefferson in Arlington County, although Arlington prosecutors have not moved forward with that case.

He has not been charged with a fifth homicide in Prince William County in 1989, although prosecutors there have said he is the prime suspect.

The jury in Prieto's first Fairfax trial, over six weeks in 2007, found him guilty of capital murder. But during the sentencing phase, a juror rebelled and sent out notes saying he'd been pressured by other jurors. Judge Dennis J. Smith declared a mistrial.

The jury in Prieto's second trial, an eight-week case in 2008, found him guilty of capital murder and imposed two death sentences. But last year, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Judge Randy I. Bellows had given that jury an improper verdict form that didn't include all the options. A resentencing -- not a full retrial -- was ordered.

And that sentencing, again before Bellows, is set to begin with jury selection Tuesday. Unlike in the first two trials, longtime Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. will not be at the prosecution table. His successor, Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh, will be joined by Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Casey Lingan.

It is not clear how many members of the Raver and Fulton families will attend and listen to the brutal evidence -- Horan theorized that Fulton was shot in the back of the head while on his knees and that Raver was shot as she ran away and raped as she lay dying.

Defending Prieto for the third time will be veteran lawyers Jonathan Shapiro and Peter D. Greenspun, appointed by the court. Court records show the defense was paid nearly $360,000 for attorney and witness fees and costs in the first trial, and about $265,000 for the second trial.

Complicated legal issues loom for both sides. For the prosecution, Morrogh and Lingan must show a new jury the crimes for which Prieto was convicted in 2008, which is typically done in the "guilt-or-innocence" phase of a trial, and then argue for a death sentence.

On the other side, Greenspun and Shapiro must decide whether to raise the mitigating defense that Prieto was mentally retarded at the time of the killings and, therefore, not eligible for the death penalty.

That theory, based on the trauma he experienced growing up in war-torn El Salvador in the 1980s, apparently was persuasive to the juror who rebelled in the first trial. But it did not work in the second trial.

Greenspun and Shapiro have not said whether they will raise the issue a third time.

Three hundred Fairfax residents have been summoned and will be questioned on their ability to rule fairly in a death-penalty case. The defense has estimated that this phase might take two weeks, with opening statements Sept. 21. In the two previous trials, jury selection took four days and eight days.

The sentencing trial is then expected to last through October. Bellows rejected a defense request that he recuse himself because of his strong comments in imposing the jury's death sentence after the second trial.

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