Man acquitted of felony murder gets prison for assault

April 08, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A man found guilty of unlawful assault in the March 2011 shooting death of a man at a Martinsburg-area apartment building was sentenced Monday in Berkeley County Circuit Court to at least two years in prison.

Jonathan Frederick Bennett, 41, of Charlottsville, Va., was found not guilty in January of felony murder in the March 6, 2011, shooting death of Geronimo Garcia-Cruz.

Bennett’s prison sentence was enhanced as a result of an agreement in which he admitted to a previous felony conviction in Charlottesville, Va., according to court documents.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely initially sought Bennett’s sentence to be enhanced to a life sentence, but discovered another prior felony conviction in Virginia could not be applied under West Virginia’s recidivist statute.

If the felony offense in one state is not recognized as a felony offense in West Virginia, it can’t be used to apply what is 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 Bennett’s case, he was convicted of a felony count of grand larceny in Virginia, but the value of what was stolen in the case was $149, Games-Neely said.

In West Virginia, Bennett would have been charged with petit larceny, a misdemeanor offense, because the value of what is stolen must be $1,000 or greater, according to Games-Neely.

Bennett’s sentence of at least two years and not more than five years was made effective April 13, 2011, and Games-Neely said it would be up to the state Division of Corrections as to when he is released.

Appearing in court alongside defense attorney B. Craig Manford, Bennett told 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes that he hoped find a way to make amends and give back a little bit to society after enduring what he described as “quite an ordeal.”

Wilkes encouraged Bennett to make a change in his life, telling the defendant he hasn’t shown a good ability to be a career criminal.

“You get caught too much,” Wilkes said. After reviewing a pre-sentence report, Wilkes said he noticed that Bennett had “pluses” in his background and didn’t need to be involved in criminal activity.

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 in January.

Bennett, however, has remained behind bars because of unrelated charges pending against him, including a Washington County, Md., case.

Bennett was previously sentenced in U.S. District Court 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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