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Opening statements heard in Berkeley County murder trial

Jonathan Frederick Bennett of Va., is charged in the March 6, 2011, death of Geronimo Garcia-Cruz

January 09, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com
  • Jonathan Frederick Bennett
Jonathan Frederick Bennett

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The attorney for a Virginia man charged in the March 2011 shooting death of another man at an apartment building in Berkeley County told jurors seated Wednesday for his trial that his client’s gun went off amid a struggle to protect himself and a woman with him.

Jonathan Frederick Bennett, 41, of Charlottesville, Va., is charged in the March 6, 2011, death of Geronimo Garcia-Cruz, 26, of Winchester, Va., whose body was found in a stairwell at Suncrest Apartments at 2998 Winchester Ave. south of Martinsburg.

Bennett 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.  

Co-defendant Ashley Carpegna agreed to plead guilty last year to one count of accessory after the fact to murder, but has yet to be sentenced by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes, who is presiding in both cases.

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Carpegna’s cooperation in the prosecution of Bennett is a condition of her plea agreement.

Manford, in his opening statement Wednesday, attacked Carpegna’s credibility as a witness, saying she was “bought and paid for” by the state.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely told the jury of eight women and four men that Bennett shot Garcia-Cruz at Carpegna’s apartment despite attempts by another man who was with him to intervene.

A third man also was with Garcia-Cruz at the apartment, but Games-Neely told jurors that Bennett, who suddenly emerged from a closet in the two-bedroom unit, was the only one who had a gun.

Paramedic Michael Barrett testified Wednesday that he found Garcia-Cruz face down, sprawled out on the steps of an apartment complex stairwell upon responding to what was reported as a head injury due to a fall.

Barrett said Garcia-Cruz wasn’t breathing and he didn’t detect a pulse after two females at the complex indicated the victim was “messed up” and directed Barrett to the stairwell after he arrived there between 6 and 6:30 a.m.

Upon turning the victim on his side, Barrett said he saw the head wound and a lot of blood, but then heard what sounded like a female screaming at the apartment complex and took cover behind a dumpster fearing for his own safety.

Barrett said he returned to his vehicle, drove across Winchester Avenue to the ROCS convenience store nearby and called for law enforcement. Barrett said he returned to the scene with Berkeley County sheriff’s deputies and at that time confirmed the man was dead.

Upon arriving at the apartment complex, Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Jones testified that he followed a blood trail to Apartment 10, where he saw blood “all over the place.” 

The door was locked, but Jones said he was able to enter by reaching through a window that was broken out to unlock the door.

Games-Neely told jurors that they would hear testimony indicating Carpegna has a bad habit of locking herself out of things and had to break the window to get into her apartment.

Games-Neely said testimony also would show that Omar Navarro, a man who knew Carpegna and had been intimate with her, gave the woman a ride home the night of the shooting from the Bunker Hill, W.Va., club where she worked as a dancer.

Navarro was joined by Garcia-Cruz and Javier Moreno. Two other individuals were dropped off at Viva Mexico restaurant before arriving at Carpegna’s residence, Games-Neely said.

After they arrived at her apartment, Games-Neely told jurors that Carpegna took Moreno to her bedroom to have sex with him in exchange for money as part of an arrangement.

Games-Neely said testimony would show that Carpegna came out of the bedroom at one point and said Moreno wasn’t going to pay her and that Bennett subsequently emerged from a closet and repeatedly ordered she be paid “my money.”

In trying to calm Bennett down, Games-Neely said Navarro was “pistol-whipped” in an altercation with the defendant, who then shot Garcia-Cruz in the head at close range.

Sheriff’s Deputy Lt. Daniel Steerman testified Wednesday that Carpegna initially stated to police that four Hispanic males had come back to her apartment and an argument ensued between two of them and one shot the other.

The victim was dragged out of the apartment to the stairwell by Bennett, who was arrested in Hagerstown two days later.

Games-Neely said Garcia-Cruz, Moreno and Navarro were “the perfect victims” because of their residency status.

Moreno, who voluntarily returned to Mexico and isn’t available for the trial, had entered the United States illegally, Games-Neely said.

In his opening statement, Manford asserted that Bennett was surprised to discover three men in Carpegna’s apartment and grabbed his gun from the pantry after hearing Carpegna in distress about not being paid and after realizing he was outnumbered.

Bennett had “no intention to kill anyone,” Manford said.

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