The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Judge delays verdict in fatal crash
Faced with legal uncertainty, Culpeper County Circuit Judge Susan Whitlock postponed issuing a verdict Monday in the vehicular-manslaughter trial of Orlando Cruz.
Whitlock said a defense motion alleging double jeopardy “was more complex than the court originally thought” and scheduled a hearing on the matter for January.
During last week’s four-day trial, Cruz’s attorney, Paul Walla, contended that the charges of manslaughter while driving drunk and felony murder were one in the same and trying his client on both violated the double-jeopardy statutes.
Cruz, 37, was driving a Jeep Cherokee that crossed the center line on Eggbornsville Road on Sept. 6, 2012, and crashed head-on into a Ford Winstar minivan driven by 20-year-old Zulma Alvarez. Cruz, an undocumented Salvadoran immigrant, faces the possibility of more than 70 years in prison if convicted of the eight charges against him.
Foremost among those charges is felony murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. The maximum sentence for a vehicular manslaughter while driving drunk conviction is 20 years in prison.
Instead of rendering a verdict Monday, Whitlock ordered that Walla prepare a brief on the legal precedents involved and have it on her desk by Dec. 2.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Megan Frederick and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney David Barredo will have until Dec. 28 to respond.
Arguments concerning those briefs were set for Jan. 16 at 1:30 p.m., after which Whitlock is expected to announce her verdict.
In addition to felony murder and vehicular manslaughter while driving under the influence, Cruz is also charged with DUI, unlawfully wounding and wounding during the commission of a felony.
Misdemeanor charges include destruction of property, driving without a license and placing an invalid inspection sticker on his vehicle’s windshield.