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Va. man found not guilty of felony murder in Martinsburg-area shooting

Jonathan Frederick Bennett was found guilty of unlawful assault in the death of Geronimo Garcia-Cruz

January 17, 2013
  • Jonathan Frederick Bennett
Jonathan Frederick Bennett

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A Charlottesville, Va., man charged in the March 2011 shooting death of another man at a Martinsburg-area apartment building was found not guilty of felony murder Thursday after jurors deliberated for more than nine hours.

Jonathan Frederick Bennett, 41, who originally is from New York City, was found guilty of unlawful assault in the March 6, 2011, death of Geronimo Garcia-Cruz, 26, of Winchester, Va., whose body was found in a stairwell of Suncrest Apartments at 2998 Winchester Ave. south of Martinsburg.

Bennett also was found not guilty of assault during the commission of a felony by the jury, which began deliberating late Wednesday afternoon and appeared deadlocked on reaching a verdict at about 2:30 p.m.

Bennett, who is scheduled to be sentenced March 18, is serving a federal prison sentence for a drug-related conviction, attorneys said.

The unlawful assault conviction comes with a statutory one- to five-year sentence, but Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely told the court that she could pursue a recidivist action against Bennett to extend the prison term because he previously had been convicted of a felony offense.

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Games-Neely said she needs to review Bennett’s criminal history to determine whether he could receive a life sentence through a recidivist action.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” Games-Neely said after the jury of eight women and four women left the courtroom.

Bennett appeared relieved by the not-guilty verdict of the jury, which was the first of three findings read just before 6 p.m. by presiding 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes.

The verdict came little more than three hours after the jury foreperson told the judge that they were divided over whether the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Bennett intended to commit robbery, as was alleged in the case. The foreperson told the court they had deliberated for more than six hours at that point.

“We are divided and have been so throughout,” the foreperson wrote on a small piece of paper to Wilkes. “All of our other findings depend on this.”

The state had contended that Bennett attempted to rob Garcia-Cruz and two other men that a co-defendant, Ashley Nicole Carpegna, had brought back to her apartment on March 6, 2011.

Carpegna, who testified in Bennett’s trial, met the men at a club where she had been working hours before Garcia-Cruz died from a fatal gunshot wound to the head, police and attorneys have said.

At least one of the men had expected to have sex at Carpegna’s apartment in exchange for money, attorneys have said.

Carpegna separately agreed last year to plead guilty to accessory after the fact of murder and is due to appear in court next week, according to court documents.

Wilkes, who asked the deadlocked jury Thursday afternoon to “give it another good effort at discussion,” commended the jurors for the work they had done during the six-day trial.

“It’s clear from your message earlier today, it was tough deliberations,” Wilkes said.

Defense attorney B. Craig Manford said he and Bennett were “elated” with the verdict and thanked the jurors.

“They obviously took their duties very seriously,” Manford said.

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