Co-defendant links friend to 2008 slaying of D.C. couple

By Keith L. Alexander
Wednesday, December 8, 2010

One of three defendants charged in the 2008 killing of a Northwest Washington couple calmly explained to a D.C. Superior Court jury how he and his friends forced their way into the victims' home, burglarized the house and then beat and stabbed them before leaving them to bleed to death.

Peiro Hernandez, 22, testified Tuesday that he, his girlfriend and their friend pushed their way inside the Chevy Chase home of psychiatrist Michael Spevak, 68, and his wife Virginia, 67, a former teacher. He said the Spevaks never resisted or screamed.

It was a crime that shocked the quiet, upper Northwest Washington neighborhood where the Spevaks were known as community activists who often took in foster children. They regularly hosted block gatherings at their home.

Hernandez, who pleaded guilty last year to two counts of second-degree murder, testified for the prosecution at the trial of his friend, Jose H. Portillo. Both men were members of M.C., or Master Criminals, a Salvadoran gang.

Portillo, 21, is charged with 15 counts in connection with the killing, including first-degree murder, burglary and theft. Charges were added because the Spevaks were considered senior citizens.

Last year, Angela Hernandez, 22, also pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder. Angela and Peiro Hernandez , who are not related, are awaiting sentencing by Judge Michael L. Rankin, who also is overseeing Portillo's trial.

Prosecutors said Angela Hernandez knew the Spevaks because she had been childhood friends with one of their former foster children. Portillo's court-appointed attorneys said that their client did not participate in the killings.

But on the stand, Hernandez, with his wrists and hands shackled and wearing a blue prison jumpsuit, said Portillo was among those who pushed their way into the Spevaks' home Nov. 20, 2008. Earlier in the evening, the three were drinking and doing drugs at Angela Hernandez's home, when she told her two friends that she knew a house where they could "hang out," Hernandez testified.

The three then drove in Peiro Hernandez's white Toyota to the Spevaks home in the 5200 block of Belt Road NW, he said. When they arrived, he said, Angela Hernandez told him to grab a 30-inch, black, retractable metal baton from the car and bring it with him.

It was then, Hernandez testified, that he realized that they weren't going to the house to party. "If we were going there to drink, we wouldn't have needed a weapon," he said.

It was late in the evening and the Spevaks had prepared for bed. Virginia Spevak was wearing her blue flannel pajamas; her husband was in his boxer shorts. Peiro Hernandez said Angela Hernandez instructed him to knock on the door and ask for Anna, the name of the former foster daughter.

Hernandez said he knocked on the door five times. When Michael Spevak answered the door, Hernandez said, he asked for Anna. Spevak said Anna didn't live there. Portillo also asked for Anna, Hernandez said. Then Hernandez grabbed Spevak by the throat, he said, and pushed him inside the house. Portillo and Angela Hernandez followed, he said.

When Virginia Spevak heard the commotion, she came to the door. Portillo pulled out his .38-caliber gun and pointed it in Virginia Spevak's face and ordered her into the main part of the house, Hernandez testified.

Once inside, Hernandez said, Portillo and Angela Hernandez ordered Virginia Spevak to find items for them to steal. They grabbed cameras, computers, computer disks, cash and other items. Hernandez said he yanked two telephone cords out of the wall and handed them to Portillo, who tied Michael Spevak's hands behind his back and sat him on a sofa. Virginia Spevak's hands were tied to an ankle on a green sofa, just feet away from her husband, he said, with a gag over her mouth. Neither Spevak tried to fight or scream, he said.

But Angela Hernandez said that the couple would recognize her and that "we needed to kill them," Peiro Hernandez testified. Angela went into the kitchen and pulled a knife from a butcher's block, Hernandez said, and he grabbed the metal baton. He said he watched Angela stab Michael Spevak and then he hit him with the baton five times. Angela then went over to Virginia Spevak and stabbed her before he began striking her with the baton.

Before they left, Hernandez said he pulled the wedding band off Virginia Spevak's finger and gave it to his girlfriend. In the car, as they were preparing to drive from the Spevaks' house, Hernandez said Portillo turned to them and said, "Whatever you did, they better be dead, or we will be going to jail."

The Spevaks' daughter, Leah Spevak-Kanach, 38, testified that she and her then-infant son Zygmond, had visited her parents earlier in the day. Her mother was busy baking bread and making soup for a neighborhood gathering scheduled for the next day. Police discovered the bodies two days later after she and neighbors grew concerned.

Authorities speculate that Michael Spevak lived for several minutes and broke his restraints. His body was found on the floor, face up, inches from where his wife was slumped over the arm of the sofa.

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