- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 3, 2009

RICHMOND | A man on death row in two states is entitled to a new sentencing in Virginia because the jury that convicted him of the 1988 slayings of two college sweethearts was given unconstitutional verdict forms, the inmate’s attorney argued in court Tuesday.

Attorney Michael A. Siem told the Virginia Supreme Court that the forms failed to provide an option for the jury to sentence Alfredo R. Prieto to life without parole even if it found that he was eligible for the death penalty because the crimes were vile or because Prieto would pose a danger to the public.

An attorney for the state, Matthew P. Dullaghan, said the trial judge made that option clear in his jury instructions.

Prieto, 43, was already on death row in California for raping and murdering a 15-year-old girl when a DNA sample connected him to the rape and murder of Rachel Raver and the slaying of her boyfriend, Warren Fulton III, in Reston.

The bodies of Miss Raver and Mr. Fulton, both 22, were found in a wooded area Dec. 6, 1988, a few days after they were seen at a D.C. nightspot. Both had been shot. The crime was unsolved until California entered a sample of Prieto’s DNA into a national database, which matched samples from the Virginia crime scene.

A Fairfax County jury convicted Prieto of capital murder and gave him two death sentences.

Mr. Dullaghan said the judge’s instructions conformed with a paragraph in the verdict forms that allows the life sentence even if the defendant is death-eligible but does not specifically address whether the jury found unanimously that one or both of the aggravating factors exist.

Chief Justice Leroy R. Hassell Sr. asked Mr. Dullaghan whether he was suggesting that some jurors could find vileness and others could find future dangerousness to conclude a defendant is eligible for the death penalty. Mr. Dullaghan said he was, but the justices didn’t sound convinced.

“How can a jury be allowed to mix and match?” Chief Justice Hassell asked.

Justice Lawrence Koontz questioned whether “the death sentence itself is in serious trouble in the commonwealth” if the court adopts Mr. Dullaghan’s view that unanimity is not required on the aggravating factors, which Justice Koontz said support the constitutionality of capital punishment.

The court is likely to make its ruling Sept. 18.

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