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Trial for Va. man charged in Martinsburg slaying set to begin Wednesday

January 07, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com
  • Jonathan Frederick Bennett
Jonathan Frederick Bennett

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The trial of a Virginia man charged in the March 2011 shooting death of another man in the stairwell of a Martinsburg apartment building is set to begin Wednesday.

Jonathan Frederick Bennett, 41, of Charlottesville, was indicted in October 2011 on single counts of murder, felony murder, conspiracy, malicious assault, assault during the commission of a felony and three counts of first-degree attempted robbery.

Bennett is charged in the March 6, 2011, death of Geronimo Garcia-Cruz, 26, of Winchester, Va., whose body was found in a stairwell of Suncrest Apartments near Martinsburg.

Bennett, at his pretrial hearing Monday, confirmed that he declined the state’s offer to enter guilty pleas to second-degree murder and malicious wounding. He would have been ordered to serve prison terms of 40 years and two to 10 years consecutively under the terms of the proposed plea, Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said. 

Bennett is accused of shooting Garcia-Cruz in the second-floor apartment of Ashley Nicole Carpegna, a dancer that Garcia-Cruz met hours earlier at the club where she worked.

Carpegna, 28, had taken Garcia-Cruz and his companions to her apartment and at least one of the men expected to have sex in exchange for paying her money, defense attorney B. Craig Manford and Games-Neely agreed at Bennett’s pretrial hearing.

Carpegna, who was charged as an accessory after the fact to murder, agreed to plead guilty to the charge as part of a plea agreement last year, but she isn’t slated to return to court until after Bennett’s trial, according to court documents.

Carpegna was placed on home confinement last summer, according to court documents.

In addition to serving a five-year sentence, Carpegna has agreed to fully cooperate with the state in prosecuting Bennett and any other co-defendants in the case, according to court documents.

Games-Neely told 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes that she only will use one autopsy photograph of the victim’s body. The photograph shows the contact gunshot wound above the temple of the victim’s head, according to Manford, who did not object to the image’s use.

Wilkes ruled that Games-Neely will be allowed to present evidence of Bennett’s flight from the scene of the homicide, noting the defendant left the state after the fatal shooting.

Bennett was arrested in Hagerstown.

The judge also ruled that evidence alluding to a drug-dealing relationship between Bennett and Carpegna was not to be presented, but Wilkes also didn’t rule out changing his position as the trial progresses.

The attorneys said Tuesday that Carpegna agreed to take the victim and his friends back to her apartment because she needed money to pay Bennett for drugs that she used instead of selling them at the club where she worked.

Manford and Games-Neely also were in agreement that Carpegna cleaned the apartment after the shooting and that photographs of the scene would reflect that.

Two days after the shooting, Bennett was arrested in Washington County, where police there said he sold drugs to an informant. Carpegna also was later arrested on drug charges in Washington County, according to court documents.

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