MARTINSBURG, W.Va. —The trial of a Virginia man charged in the March 2011 shooting death of another man in the stairwell of a Martinsburg apartment building was rescheduled Monday after the defendant’s attorney cited “adverse” pretrial publicity in the case.
Jonathan Frederick Bennett, who was in court on his 41st birthday, was indicted in October 2011 on single counts of murder, felony murder, conspiracy, malicious assault, assault during the commission of a felony and three counts of attempted robbery in the first degree.
Charlottesville, Va., is charged in the March 6 homicide of Geronimo Garcia-Cruz, 26, of Winchester, Va., whose body was found in a stairwell of Suncrest Apartments in Martinsburg.
In what was to be Bennett’s pretrial Monday, 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes denied defense attorney B. Craig Manford’s request for a venue study given media coverage of the trial, but agreed to postpone the trial until Feb. 12, 2013.
In denying the motion, Wilkes said he felt it was best to try to seat a jury, noting that juries recently were selected for two homicide trials that he suggested received substantial media coverage.
“I don’t think we need to go to the trouble or expense to get a venue study,” Wilkes said.
The Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office charged Bennett with shooting Garcia-Cruz, alleging he was killed in the second-floor apartment of Ashley Nicole Carpegna, an exotic dancer Garcia-Cruz met several hours earlier at the club where she worked.
Carpegna, 28, had taken Garcia-Cruz and his companions to her apartment after negotiating “an illicit informal business agreement,” police said. Carpegna, who was charged as an accessory after the fact to murder, agreed to plead guilty to the charge earlier this year as part of plea agreement, according to court documents.
Carpegna is due to appear in court July 30, when Wilkes is expected to decide whether he will accept the plea, according to court documents.
In addition to serving a five-year sentence, Carpegna has agreed to fully cooperate with the state in prosecuting Bennett and any other co-defendants in the case, according to court documents.