Michael Carl George, of Stafford County, was convicted of capital murder yesterday in the Father's Day weekend killing of 15-year-old Alexander Eugene Sztanko, of Manassas, who apparently was tortured with an electronic stun gun before he was shot to death.
The jury deliberated about four hours in Prince William County Circuit Court before handing down its guilty verdict after two days of testimony. George, 33, a former civilian computer operator at Quantico Marine Base, did not testify.
Sztanko, a Potomac High School student who disappeared June 16 after leaving his parents' former Woodbridge home to ride a dirt bike in a utility right of way and recreation area known as the Power Lines, suffered injuries in his groin area that witnesses said were caused by a stun gun. His wallet containing about $40 was missing.
George also was found guilty of robbery, abduction and use of a firearm. Under Virginia law, a person who is convicted of robbery during a murder is eligible for the death penalty. The sentencing phase of the trial is set to begin at 10 a.m. today before the same jury that convicted George.
Witnesses will be called by prosecutors to try to prove that George would be a danger to society or might kill again if he is ever released from prison, and that the crime was so inhumane that George qualifies for the death penalty, a source said.
Evidence also is expected to be presented about George's involvement in the 1979 death of 8-year-old Larry Perry of Dumfries. George served 2 1/2 years in prison after admitting involvement in the case. George, who said Perry accidentally shot himself while they were target shooting in the Power Lines area near Interstate 95 and Cardinal Drive, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and abduction.
Judge Herman Whisenant, after considering the jury's recommendation, is scheduled to sentence George on Feb. 20. If sentenced to death, George would become the seventh inmate sentenced in Prince William County to Virginia's death row.
During closing arguments yesterday, prosecutors urged the jury to "send a message" that crimes against children will not be tolerated in the county.
"Focus your attention on the person of the defendant right now," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney James Willett said to the jury, pointing at George.
"He is a person who kills for profit, pleasure, cruelty and pain. He is a man who stalks and abducts," Willett said.
When George was arrested on Father's Day, he was dressed in camouflage clothing and wearing black leather gloves. He told police he was in the Power Lines to hunt turkey.
A stun gun, a hacksaw and a machete were found in George's 1989 Ford Bronco, according to police.
During the trial, a former jail mate of George's testified that George told him he had killed Sztanko. Roger Lee Settle said George told him he had committed a lewd sex act before he "stunned the boy."
Defense attorney Lon Farris said after the trial that he was disappointed with the verdict.
During closing arguments, Farris admonished the jury not to convict George on capital murder because of hatred toward George. "There is no evidence that he did anything except drag that boy off the bike," Farris said. "That may be evidence of the beginning of a murder, but not of a robbery."
Farris told the jury that justice could be done by convicting George of a lesser murder charge, which could bring him life in prison.
"You still have a full range of punishments," Farris said. "I'm not asking you not to punish Mr. George for what he did."
Gail and Atilla Sztanko, the victim's parents, said they won't relax until George has been sentenced.
"It's not over yet," Gail Sztanko said. "There's still a possibility that he won't have death imposed."
Asked if she wanted George to die for her son's murder, Gail Sztanko's voice broke and she sobbed. "I don't want Michael George to be able, ever, to do this to anybody else again," she said. "That's all."