Earlier versions of this story misstated what charges Jose Portillo was convicted on and the maximum sentence for his co-defendants. Portillo was convicted of two counts of first-degree felony murder and of second-degree murder. His co-defendants, Peiro F. Hernandez and Angela Hernandez, face a maximum of 80 years: 40 years for each murder.
Jury finds defendant guilty of murder in brutal 2008 slaying of D.C. couple
Friday, December 10, 2010; 11:24 PM
A D.C. Superior Court jury late Friday convicted a man of forcing his way into a Chevy Chase home and helping to brutalize a couple before fatally beating and stabbing them in 2008.
Jose G. Portillo, 22, was convicted of two counts of first-degree felony murder and of second-degree murder in the slayings of psychiatrist Michael Spevak, 68, and his wife, Virginia, 67. Portillo and two of his friends broke into the Spevaks' home and burglarized it before leaving them for dead.
The jury returned the verdict after one day of deliberations and three days of testimony that included gruesome evidence of the crime scene and autopsy photos.
The other defendants, Peiro Fuentes Hernandez, 22, and Angela Hernandez, last year pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and are awaiting sentencing. Both, who are not related, are facing a maximum of 80 years in prison, 40 for each murder. All three defendants are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Michael L. Rankin early next year.
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.
"The entire community was outraged by the senseless murders of this loving and generous couple," U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said in a statement late Friday. "We can only hope that the convictions of the three people responsible for this tragedy bring some measure of comfort to the many people who benefited from the Spevaks' good works."
During Portillo's trial, Fuentes Hernandez testified that he, Portillo and Angela Hernandez targeted the Spevaks' home. Angela Hernandez was childhood friends with one of the foster children the Spevaks had raised.
Portillo's court-appointed attorneys, Ferris Bond and John Machado, argued that their client did not participate in the slaying, and only Fuentes Hernandez and his girlfriend killed the couple.
While on the stand, Fuentes Hernandez said that he, Angela Hernandez and Portillo pushed their way into the Spevaks' home in the 5300 block of Belt Road NW on Nov. 20, 2008.
Once inside, Fuentes Hernandez said, Portillo and Angela Hernandez ordered Virginia Spevak, a retired teacher, to find items for them to steal. They grabbed cameras, computers, computer disks, cash and other items. Fuentes 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.
After the burglary, Fuentes Hernandez testified Angela Hernandez went into the kitchen and pulled a knife from a butcher's block and that he grabbed a metal baton. He said he watched Angela Hernandez stab Michael Spevak, and then he hit him with the baton five times. Angela Hernandez then went over to Virginia Spevak and stabbed her before he began striking her with the baton, he said.
Before they left, Fuentes 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, Fuentes Hernandez said Portillo turned to them and said, "Whatever you did, they better be dead, or we will be going to jail."
Prosecutors Michael Truscott and Reagan Taylor originally charged Portillo, who lives in Northwest Washington, with 15 counts including first-degree murder. But the jury acquitted Portillo of that charge and found him guilty of second-degree murder and the additional charges.
Authorities speculate that Michael Spevak lived for several minutes and broke his restraints. Spevak's body was found on the floor, face up, inches from where his wife was slumped over the arm of the sofa.
During the trial, Portillo often sat expressionless, looking forward, listening through headphones as an interpreter translated the proceedings from English to Spanish. When photos were projected to the jury on a screen above him, Portillo continued looking straight ahead.
Mary DiMuro, a friend of Michael Spevak's, often covered her eyes and wiped tears away while viewing the photos and hearing the testimony.
"He was like a dad to me. I miss him still," DiMuro said.