A Montgomery County jury last night found Antoine L. Gatewood guilty of first-degree murder, robbery and burglary in the slaying of a Rockville exotic dancer who was his former girlfriend.
Emily Cagal, 24, was fatally beaten with a bookend on March 2 in what prosecutors described as a robbery that turned deadly.
"We're thrilled this ended this way," Montgomery County Deputy State's Attorney John McCarthy said after the verdict was announced about 11 p.m. "This was a horrific crime."
A sentencing hearing was scheduled for Jan. 5. Gatewood, 33, of Largo, faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole, McCarthy said.
Gatewood admitted the slaying when he took the stand on Wednesday. He said he accidentally killed Cagal after she threatened him with a gun during a drunken fight that started with an argument about the future of their relationship.
McCarthy portrayed the suspect as a cunning, unrepentant killer who sliced off the tips of Cagal's fingers to keep traces of his DNA from being found under her nails and left messages on her voicemail days after the slaying in an attempt to mislead detectives.
With the victim's bloodstained T-shirt as a backdrop, McCarthy showed jurors black-and-white photographs of Cagal's disfigured skull and severed fingers and reminded them what Gatewood did with the $16,000 he took from Cagal's safe.
"He took that cash and gave it to new dancers," he said, noting that Gatewood also purchased a new car and paid more than $5,000 he owed in child support. "That's what he did with the money, the blood money he took from Emily Cagal."
Gatewood's attorney, Steven Kupferberg, argued that prosecutors failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that his client went to Cagal's Rockville apartment on March 2 intending to kill her. He noted that Gatewood used a highly unusual weapon -- a brick-sized gargoyle-shaped bookend -- though he could easily have stabbed her with kitchen knives.
Kupferberg also said Cagal was drunk and may have threatened his client with her 9mm handgun -- a claim Gatewood first made on Wednesday when he testified.
The state's key witness, Dion D. Desir, Gatewood's roommate, testified for the prosecution last week after pleading guilty to helping Gatewood cover up the murder. Desir will be sentenced to 15 months in jail, McCarthy said.
Desir told jurors that Gatewood told him he intended to steal an extra key to Cagal's apartment on March 2 because he knew that she would spend the next weekend in Florida and he would be able to take thousands of dollars she kept in a safe. Cagal kept large sums of cash at home because she made money selling drugs and had unreported income as a dancer and felt depositing it in a bank account could attract suspicion, prosecutors said.
Kupferberg urged jurors to be skeptical of Desir's testimony because of the plea bargain.