An Alexandria Circuit Court jury found Nicolas Reyes guilty of first-degree murder late Friday in the fatal shooting--more than nine years ago--of his pregnant girlfriend as she was giving her 18-month-old a bottle.
After a nearly week-long trial, the jury deliberated only about an hour before finding Reyes guilty of shooting 27-year-old Bartola Reyes twice--in the shoulder and behind the ear--on April 30, 1991. After a separate hearing, the jurors set a sentence of 47 years in prison on murder and gun charges.
Judge John E. Kloch has scheduled a final sentencing hearing for Jan. 18. Reyes could be eligible for parole because parole wasn't abolished in Virginia until after the crime was committed.
Reyes was using the name Juan Angel Funez when Alexandria detectives finally caught up with him in Florida. His arrest in Miami came after police aired a series of spots on a national and international program, "Primer Impacto," on Spanish-language television.
Witnesses testified at the trial that Reyes, who is believed to be in his thirties now, walked into the bedroom of friends with whom Bartola Reyes was staying, said, "Today I kill you," and shot her. The toddler was not hurt. Reyes then took his girlfriend's car--and the handgun--and fled to Florida, where he started a new life and family.
"He went there specifically to kill her," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Thomas K. Cullen told the jury in his closing arguments Friday. "He then left for nine years." Cullen said Nicolas Reyes was angry because his girlfriend wanted to leave him.
But Assistant Public Defender Mary Maguire argued that Reyes didn't mean to kill anyone and was simply defending himself. It was Bartola Reyes who threatened the defendant with the gun, she said.
"He grabs for the gun, he struggles for the gun and the gun goes off twice," she told the jury, demonstrating with a toy gun how it could have happened. "It was a tragic killing that happened that night."
Maguire said that a photograph of the crime scene, which she flashed onto a large screen in the courtroom, showed splatters of blood all around the bed consistent with a struggle. "He freaks out and he leaves," Maguire said. Only later, she said, did he learn that his girlfriend had died--and that she was pregnant. But Cullen told the jury that Nicolas Reyes didn't stick around to tell police he was defending himself, and that while his girlfriend was bleeding to death, he took important evidence with him: the gun. He also changed his story many times, finally testifying that he was afraid of Bartola Reyes and that she attacked him.
"He says he fell on her and she shot herself in the back of her body," Cullen said. "It took him 9 1/2 years to make up that story."