Manassas Journal Messenger | Evidence debated in Lara murder trial

Almost two years ago, Gerardo Lara Jr. heard his mother calling through his bedroom door. It was time to get up for school. By the time the 16-year-old got to the kitchen, his mother was gone. Only her car remained in the driveway.

Monday, Gerardo testified in the opening day of his father’s trial for his mother’s murder. One of Marissa Lara’s friends, Rebecca Michael, also testified. About three hours after waking Gerardo, Marissa Lara failed to meet Michael for breakfast at a Manassas restaurant. Neither Michael nor Marissa Lara’s boyfriend could reach her on her cell phone. Her boyfriend called Manassas police.

Marissa Navarro Lara, 41, had simply disappeared. Her black 2000 Mitsubishi also disappeared that night from the driveway of the Cannon Ridge home Gerardo shared with his father and younger brother, Gerardo testified. For seven days, no one knew where she was, though Manassas City police searched the Lara home.

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On May 20, 2003, a parking enforcement officer working Q Street in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C., placed a second ticket on a black Mitsubishi.

It was then that she noticed the cloud of flies around the car, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney William E. Jarvis said in his opening statement Monday. Peering inside, she saw a badly decomposed body wrapped in a sleeping bag. Marissa Lara and her car were found.

That navy sleeping bag was spread across a Prince William Circuit courtroom floor Monday, where Gerardo said it looked like his. Gerardo’s father, also Gerardo Lara, 45, is charged with his wife’s murder. The two were estranged at the time of Marissa Lara’s disappearance.

A written separation agreement gave Gerardo Lara the marital home and physical custody of their two sons, then 16 and 13, defense attorney Jon Shields said during his opening statement. Marissa Lara had a routine, prosecutor Jarvis said in his opening statement. Every morning after her husband left for work, she arrived at their former home to wake their sons for school and get their breakfast. She left before their father got home from work.

Just eight days before her disappearance, Marissa Lara asked a Prince William Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge to dismiss the protective order she had taken out against her estranged husband, according to Prince William Domestic and Juvenile Relations Court records.

Yet on the stand Monday, Marissa Lara’s friend Rebecca Michael insisted that Marissa Lara was afraid of her husband. About two years before Marissa Lara’s death, Gerardo Lara allegedly went to the Old Country Buffet on Sudley Road where Michael and Marissa Lara waited tables. According to a criminal complaint filed with Prince William Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, Gerardo Lara assaulted his wife and tried to drag her outside the restaurant to his van. When the restaurant manager tried to intervene, Gerardo Lara assaulted him also, according to a criminal complaint filed with Prince William General District Court.

The advanced decomposition of Marissa Lara’s body made it difficult for Washington, D.C., medical examiner Marie Pierre-Louis to examine the body. But she determined the cause of death to be three stab wounds, two on the right side of her skull and one to the back of her skull. Pierre-Louis said Monday she couldn’t be sure of the type of weapon or how deeply it penetrated Marissa Lara’s brain because of decomposition. Pierre-Louis couldn’t determine the time or place of her death.

The weapon was long, thin and strong, Pierre-Louis said. She agreed with Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jerrold J. Negin that it could be a screwdriver or an ice pick. Marissa Lara had also likely been drinking, Pierre-Louis said. Autopsy toxicology screens showed she had a 0.06 blood alcohol level.

Gerardo Lara is the last known person to see his wife alive. He told police his wife came to their Cannon Ridge home to get their sons ready for school. She left in a Honda Accord with Washington, D.C., plates and four unknown people, Gerardo Lara told police. Marissa Lara’s friend, Michael, testified Monday that Lara stopped working as a stripper in Washington, D.C., months before her disappearance and never socialized in the district.

On May 20, 2003, after the discovery of her body, Detective Dwayne Corbett of the Washington, D.C,. Metropolitan Police Department searched the Lara home with Manassas police officers. According to defense attorney Shields, the search lasted for three days. Gerardo Lara was cooperative, Shields said.

“There is no evidence she was there or that she was killed there,” Shields told the jury in his opening statements.

Gerardo Lara’s trial has been delayed more than once. Initially, Prince William County authorities had difficulty getting physical evidence and reports from Washington, D.C., authorities. In August, prosecutors postponed the trial again to appeal one of Circuit Court Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr.’s rulings.

Alston had ruled that prosecutors couldn’t use an affidavit for a protective order Marissa Lara had sworn against her husband and then withdrawn shortly before her death because he has a right to question those accusing him of murder. In the request for a protective order, Marissa Lara claimed her estranged husband had lured her into his home, raped her and threatened to kill her. Shields argued at an Aug. 12 hearing that the affidavit was hearsay. Prosecutors argued that the only reason Marissa Lara wouldn’t be able to answer questions about the document is because the defendant killed her. But in December, the attorney general’s office pulled the appeal, determining the case was unappealable.

Gerardo Lara’s trial will continue today.

Staff writer Maria Hegstad can be reached at (703) 369-6594.

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