A Prince William County jury recommended yesterday that Michael Carl George be sent to the electric chair for the murder of 15-year-old Alexander Eugene Sztanko, after a day of testimony in which George was described as a pedophile who could again stalk and kill young boys.
The jury, which convicted George, 33, of Stafford County, a day earlier of capital murder, deliberated less than 75 minutes. In handing down the sentence, jurors joined in condemning what prosecutors called a heinous, senseless crime. Sztanko, of Manassas, was tortured in the groin with an electronic stun gun and sexually assaulted before he was shot to death over Father's Day weekend, witnesses said.
Sentencing for George, a former computer operator at Quantico Marine Base, is scheduled for Feb. 20. In Virginia, judges rarely overturn a jury's recommendation for the death sentence.
"This case, of all the cases I have had, is the most heinous," said Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert. "This man is dangerous and society is better off without him. He killed at random and he killed young people."
Defense attorney Lon Farris, who had argued for life in prison, said George will appeal the verdict. "The battle is not over," he said.
Testimony from witnesses during yesterday's penalty phase of the trial painted a portrait of George as a loner who did not date and had few friends. Ebert characterized him as a pedophile of superior intelligence who believed his survival skills in the outdoors made him capable of eluding police. George, known as an animal hunter, stalked boys too, Ebert said.
George served 2 1/2 years in prison during the 1980s for his involvement in the death a decade ago of 8-year-old Larry Perry, of Dumfries. George, who said Perry accidentally shot himself while they were target shooting, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and abduction. Perry's body was never found.
Photographs of more than 60 fully clothed boys were seized from George's Stafford County home after he was arrested in June in Sztanko's slaying. Prince William police investigator Richard Cantarella testified yesterday that most of the candid photographs had "obviously" been taken without knowledge of the children or their parents. Interviews with some of the boys revealed that most did not know George. Some of the photos appear to have been taken under the cover of foliage, Cantarella said.
Penny Marie Presti, of Triangle, told the jury that she had seen George try to take her 9-year-old son's photograph last fall as the child played in the back yard of her home near Quantico, where George worked. When she walked outside, George left, Presti said.
"If he hadn't been apprehended by good police work and good luck, he was well on his way to becoming a serial killer, if he isn't one already," said Ebert. "He has done two murders and apparently has talked about others. Experience shows that the more these people kill, the easier it becomes."
Two former fellow inmates of George's at the Prince William-Manassas jail said yesterday that George told them he had killed a boy he abducted from a fast-food restaurant in Lake Ridge and a youth he abducted from a convenience store in Louisa County, Va. Ebert said an investigation has shown that no boys have been reported missing from either area, but disappearances might not have been noted if they had been runaways, he said.
George also told the inmates, according to testimony, that he killed Sztanko. "He said his first impression was to have sex with the boy," said former inmate Roger Lee Settle.
Sztanko, a Potomac High School student, was last seen alive about 2 p.m. June 16 as he left his parents' former home in Woodbridge to ride his motorized dirt bike in a utility right of way and recreational area near Interstate 95, known as the Power Lines.
According to testimony at the trial, George secured Sztanko's wrists to a tree with handcuffs before using a stun gun in his groin area. Semen found on the boy's T-shirt and on George's clothing indicated he had molested the youth, witnesses said. Settle said George told him he had oral sex with and then shot Sztanko because he "was screaming and yelling so much."
George was known to cruise the Power Lines area in his Ford Bronco. People who know the area interviewed shortly after George's arrest said he often was there with boys. He frequently dressed in camouflage clothing. Rita Shiflett, Perry's aunt, said her family was concerned that George "was funny" because of the amount of time he spent with children. "I never saw him with any adults, but he was with children a lot."
George's problems with the law began in the early 1970s, when he was accused of killing pets belonging to neighbors. Ann Elizabeth Hoyt said George tortured and killed a rabbit and dog.
George graduated 109th out of 555 students from Gar-Field High School in Prince William in 1976. His photo appeared in the yearbook, but no activities were listed.
"He was a pretty quiet guy," said Pam Conlon, president of his senior class. "I remember him vaguely. He wasn't an athlete or anything. He's just a person I remember seeing, but not someone whom I ever socialized with."
When police searched George's car after his arrest, they found survival gear, including hacksaws, a machete, tear gas canisters, maps, rope and lights.
In his room at his family's Stafford County home, police found weapons as well as a footlocker. A computerized list of books included manuals on guerrilla warfare, sniping, survival techniques, combat training and weapons. George never served in the armed forces.Staff writer Michael J. Ybarra contributed to this report.