After 27 years, the families of Tina Jefferson and Rachael A. Raver still clearly remember where they were when they learned that their loved ones had been killed: Velma Jefferson was at work in Lawton, Okla., when a family friend unexpectedly appeared with news about her daughter. Deidre Raver was in a neighbor’s car in Yorktown, N.Y., when she learned that her missing sister’s body had been found.
“I just screamed,” Raver said. “It’s like your body isn’t prepared for something like that.”
Now they are steeling themselves for one more unforgettable moment: the execution of the murderer, Alfredo R. Prieto, on Thursday night.
Tina Jefferson, a 24-year-old CIA financial analyst from Oklahoma, was living in Arlington when she was raped and shot to death behind an elementary school there in May 1988. Raver, 22, had just graduated from George Washington University, and her new boyfriend, Warren H. Fulton III, also 22, was a senior there when they were shot in the back in a vacant lot outside Reston in December 1988. Investigators believe that Raver was raped as she lay dying.
It was the beginning of a horrific rampage by Prieto, now 49, who is linked by ballistics to a fourth slaying in Northern Virginia: Manuel F. Sermeno, 27, was found shot to death in a burning car on Interstate 95 in Prince William County in 1989, according to law enforcement authorities. Prieto then returned to California, where he apparently killed five more people before being captured in September 1990 — a total of nine murders and four rapes in a two-year period, police in both states say.
“If there ever was a human being for whom capital punishment makes sense,” Robert F. Horan Jr., the former Fairfax commonwealth’s attorney, said Tuesday, “it’s this guy.” After DNA unexpectedly connected Prieto to the unsolved Virginia killings, Horan decided in 2005 to put Prieto on trial in Fairfax even though he already had a death sentence in California.
Prieto has not spoken publicly about any of his crimes. He never spoke to investigators in California or Virginia. He did not testify at his trials. He refused even to answer a question from prison officials recently about whether he preferred death by lethal injection or electrocution, a corrections spokeswoman said. By default under Virginia law, he will receive a lethal injection.
But at his fourth and final trial, in Fairfax in 2010, Prieto stood and answered questions from a judge about whether he was cooperating with the prosecution’s mental health expert after his defense, in two prior trials, posited that his client was mentally retarded.
In clear English, with the jury out of the nearly empty courtroom, he told Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Randy I. Bellows he “spoke to [the expert] about a variety of issues. Some of the questions I could not answer, under the Fifth Amendment. I have a right to remain silent. He asked me some questions about my state of mind. What I said was, I was using a lot of drugs. I was drinking. I gave him a lot of answers.”
The jury heard from the prosecution expert, then voted for two death sentences, which Bellows imposed in December 2010.
If Prieto is executed Thursday at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Va., his state and federal appeals processes will have been completed in under five years. A request for a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court is pending.
That does not seem like a short amount of time to the families of the three Northern Virginia victims, who endured three long trials between 2007 and 2010. Some of the family members did not survive. Rachael Raver’s mother, Veronica, struggled through stomach cancer and chemotherapy and traveled from Yorktown to Fairfax for all three trials. As Prieto was being led out of the Fairfax courtroom for the last time, Veronica Raver hissed at him: “Hey, Prieto — does your mother know you rape dying dead girls?”
In the hallway afterward, she said she did not expect to be around for Prieto’s execution but that she’d “be there in spirit.”
Veronica Raver died in 2013.
Tina Jefferson’s father, Henry Jefferson, died in April 2007, weeks before Prieto’s first trial. He was a Vietnam veteran and a career soldier who never stopped pushing for an answer to his daughter’s death. “I broke down and started crying” after Arlington County police told him that Prieto had been identified through DNA, he told The Washington Post in 2005. “For a 62-year-old man, that’s something.”
Tina was an honors student and a basketball player in high school who served as a resident assistant and president of her sorority at Oklahoma State University. She was last seen at a Giant grocery in Baileys Crossroads at 9:30 p.m. on May 10, 1988, although a witness saw her red Camaro in Arlington not long after that. Her body was found at 2 a.m. the next day behind McKinley Elementary School, and her car was back in the Giant parking lot.
No one knows how or where she might have crossed paths with Prieto, but his semen was found on her body, authorities said.
“She was a kindhearted, loving, very outgoing person,” her mother said. “And that probably was the cause of her demise.”
Raver was a varsity soccer player who graduated from George Washington University in May 1988 with an education degree. She was living in Alexandria, working as a secretary there and planning to apply for law school, when she met Fulton in the summer of 1988. “She was a clean-cut kid,” said her brother Matthew Raver. “She would not hurt a fly.”
Fulton was a senior at George Washington, living with his parents in Vienna while they helped run the local chapter of the Salvation Army. On the night of Dec. 3, 1988, Raver went to their home for dinner. Then the young couple went to a Christmas party in Arlington and finally to Mister Days, a sports bar in the District. They had planned to attend church with Fulton’s parents the next morning.
They did not come home. It is not known where they might have encountered Prieto, although autopsies showed that they ate food not long before their deaths. Their bodies were found in a lot off Hunter Mill Road on Dec. 6, 1988.
“He was a gorgeous, wonderful, talented young man,” Fulton’s father, Warren Fulton Jr., told a jury in 2008. “Twenty-two years of work and sacrifice and hopes and dreams, and suddenly it’s over.”
After the slayings of Jefferson, Raver and Fulton in 1988, Prieto moved to Manassas, not far from where Sermeno was found dead in September 1989. In February 1990, Prieto returned to California, trial testimony showed.
In May 1990, Stacey Siegrist, 19, and Tony Gianuzzi, 21, were abducted and shot to death in Rubidoux, Calif. The next month, Lula and Herbert Farley, 71 and 65, respectively, were abducted and shot to death in Ontario, Calif. Prieto was connected by DNA to the first double killings and by ballistics to the second set, California authorities said.
Finally, in September 1990, Prieto and two other men abducted three women from a rival gang’s party and raped them, according to court testimony. Prieto shot 15-year-old Yvette Woodruff in the head, according to testimony, and the other women were stabbed but not killed. The survivors identified their attackers, the two accomplices were convicted, and Prieto was finally arrested, convicted and sentenced to death. His accomplices were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.