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Man found not guilty of felony murder faces possible life sentence as repeat offender

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

February 14, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com
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Bennett

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Jonathan Frederick Bennett was found not guilty of felony murder last month in the March 2011 shooting death of a man at a Martinsburg-area hotel, but now faces a possible life sentence in prison as a repeat offender.

Bennett, 41, of Charlottesville, Va., who was found guilty of unlawful assault in the March 6, 2011, death of Geronimo Garcia-Cruz, was scheduled to be sentenced next month, but will now be first tried as a recidivist.

Under West Virginia’s recidivist statute, sometimes called the “three strikes rule,” a person convicted of two felony offenses can see their sentence enhanced to a life sentence if they are convicted of a third or subsequent felony offense.

In order for a person to be found a recidivist, a jury trial must be held under state statute.

An April 9 trial was scheduled Thursday by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes after Bennett appeared in court briefly with his attorney. Bennett confirmed he was not admitting or denying he is the same person who was convicted of at least two prior felony charges outlined in a recidivist information filed Wednesday.

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Four convictions, including the unlawful assault felony conviction decided by the jury last month in Berkeley County Circuit Court, are cited in the two-page information filed by Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely.

Bennett was convicted of eluding police in both Charlottesville and Chesterfield County, Va., in August and October 2004, respectively, according to circuit court records cited by Games-Neely in the information.

He was convicted of grand larceny in Nelson County, Va., in September 2007, according to Games-Neely.

In both the Charlottesville and Nelson County cases, Bennett was sentenced to three years in prison, but all of the jail time was suspended except for four months in each, according to Games-Neely. In the Chesterfield County circuit court case, a five-year sentence was suspended for 10 years of supervised release, according to Games-Neely.

Bennett’s unlawful assault conviction in the Berkeley County homicide case comes with a statutory one- to five-year sentence, according to court records. But Bennett’s sentencing hearing was continued Thursday and is not expected to be rescheduled until after his recidivist trial.

Aside from being acquitted of the murder charge, Bennett also was found not guilty of assault during the commission of a felony by the jury.

Bennett, however, has remained behind bars because he has been serving a federal prison sentence for a drug-related conviction, according to Games-Neely and defense attorney B. Craig Manford. Bennett was sentenced to two and a half years in prison in 2011 after he pleaded guilty to distribution of cocaine base (crack cocaine), according to court records.

In the homicide case, 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 pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact of murder earlier this month was placed on probation for five years.

The probation was ordered by Wilkes in lieu of a five-year prison sentence.

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