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Judge forwards murder charges against teenager

December 21, 2005|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Looking small and bewildered, 14-year-old Irving Atllio Benitez learned from Washington County District Judge M. Kenneth Long through an interpreter Tuesday morning that first-degree murder charges against him held up to legal scrutiny and would be forwarded to a higher court.

With his mother standing quietly behind him, Benitez was returned to the Washington County Detention Center on a $500,000 bond set by Long. Bond previously had been denied for the teen who was charged as an adult following the stabbing death of a 22-year-old Hagerstown man during a street fight Dec.10.

Benitez lives in the 100 block of Willowdale Drive in Frederick, Md. Co-defendant Angel Teodoro Villatoro, 35, lives in the first block of East 6th Street in Frederick. Both face life imprisonment or death sentences if convicted of first-degree murder, Deputy State's Attorney Steven Kessell said earlier this month.

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Defense attorney Wiley Rutledge argued that Benitez had neither a knife nor a gun during the fight in the 100 block of West North Street in Hagerstown at about 1 a.m. Eliezer Rodriguez, of 600 N. Prospect Street, was stabbed in the abdomen and chest during the fight and later died at Washington County Hospital.

A steak knife was recovered at the scene.

"Here you have an agreement for a fight and nothing other than that. He admitted kicking and punching," Rutledge said.

Deputy Washington County State's Attorney Joseph Michael countered that Benitez came from another town in the middle of the night to attack someone.

"He has admitted he was one of those people," Michael said. "It was premeditated."

In his ruling, Long said the testimony of Detective Casey Yonkers indicated Benitez came to Hagerstown for a preplanned fight.

"That's where aiding and abetting comes into play," Long said.

Police said a second man, Cesar Miranda Rodriguez, 27, of the 200 block of North Jonathan Street, was stabbed in the left side of his back. He was treated at Washington County Hospital and later released.

In addition to the Rodriguezes, at least six men were involved in the fight, including Benitez and Villatoro, according to charging documents. With assistance from the Frederick Police Department, Hagerstown police identified several suspects and arrested Benitez and Villatoro later in the day Dec. 10.

Yonkers said Tuesday that Benitez reportedly was seeing a woman in the North Street neighborhood, and Eliezer Rodriguez "didn't like that."

According to charging documents, Cesar Rodriguez told police he and Eliezer Rodriguez started a verbal argument with several men in a light-colored van. Cesar Rodriguez told police one of the men then hit Eliezer Rodriguez, and the men got out of the van and began to punch the Rodriguezes, documents state.

A witness identified Benitez by his first name and residence in Frederick, and Hagerstown police and officers in Frederick found him at his apartment, according to charging documents. The witness later identified both Villatoro and Benitez from a photo array.

A second witness noted the license plate of a 1992 Dodge Caravan the men allegedly used to flee the scene, and Frederick police stopped the van and identified Villatoro as its driver. Without cause to hold the men, Frederick police released Villatoro and an unidentified passenger. They later arrested Villatoro at his home and handed him over to Hagerstown police.

Benitez and Villatora each are charged with one count of first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder, one count of second-degree murder, one count of attempted second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault, two counts of second-degree assault and one count of carrying a concealed weapon.

Villatoro, who is being held without bond, is a citizen of El Salvador, police said. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 10.

Benitez was born and raised in the United States and has lived in Frederick for most of his life. He was living with his mother - a native of El Salvador - and two other children Dec. 10.

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