Manassas Journal Messenger | Second trial for Lara begins

According to the testimony of a friend, Marissa Lara argued with her husband Gerardo loudly and often.

“She was scared of him,” Rebecca Lynn Michael said from the witness stand Monday, shortly after Gerardo Lara’s second murder trial began.

Michael was one of several witnesses to testify Monday, as prosecutors started assembling their case against Lara, a Manassas man accused of killing his estranged wife and leaving her body in Washington, D.C.

Monday’s testimony was used mainly to cover old territory: many of the witnesses that testified — Michael included — told their stories to a jury during Lara’s first trial.

That jury found Lara guilty in April, but the verdict was overturned after it was revealed that a juror had purchased newspapers containing stories about the trial.

So on Monday, at the start of the second trial, prosecutors tried to recreate the events surrounding Marissa Lara’s death.

Michael and Marissa Lara — friends since the days when both worked at the Old Country Buffet on Sudley Road — had planned to meet for breakfast at 9 a.m. on the morning of May 13, 2003, but Marissa never showed up, Michael testified.

Her absence worried Eric Jones, who was Marissa Lara’s boyfriend at the time, Michael said.

Around 9 a.m., Jones called the Manassas police department and reported Marissa Lara missing.

Responding to the call, two Manassas police officers stopped by the home Gerardo Lara shared with his two sons.

One of those officers, Detective Cindy van Noppen, testified Monday that she noticed Melissa Lara’s 2000 Mitsubishi parked outside Gerardo Lara’s house.

Peering through the window, she saw a gym bag and some clothes in the car.

The officers entered Gerardo Lara’s house through a back door. One of the Laras’ teenage sons was the only one home.

After calling Gerardo Lara at work and getting his permission to search the house, van Noppen and officer Tabitha Pavalok performed what they described as a “cursory” search: they went through the house looking for Marissa, but did not conduct a thorough search. They didn’t find her.

The next day, Lara called van Noppen and reported that Marissa’s car had been removed from the front of his home, van Noppen testified during cross-examination from defense attorney Jon E. Shields.

Several days later, on May 20, 2003, Washington, D.C., parking enforcement officer Linda Dunn put a second parking ticket on a black 2000 Mitsubishi illegally parked on a residential street near Dupont Circle.

Dunn noticed flies swarming in the car, and looked through the window. She saw a gym bag, some clothes and what she first thought was a wig in the back seat. After a moment, she realized it was a human head, Dunn testified Monday.

“I looked and took a double look to see if I was seeing what I thought I saw,” Dunn said.

The missing car had been found, along with the Marissa Lara’s body.

William F. Hyatt Jr., a forensic technician with the Washington, D.C., police, responded to the scene and photographed the interior of the car.

The body was wrapped in a sleeping bag and there was a feather on one of the front seats, Hyatt testified Monday.

During the first trial, prosecutors identified the sleeping bag and the feather as items taken from Gerardo Lara’s house.

The last witness the prosecution called Monday was William Miller, the operations manager at the charter service where Gerardo Lara had been employed at the time of his wife’s death.

Miller testified that Lara had access to the keys to all of the charter service’s vehicles, and that it would have been theoretically possible for him to take a vehicle to Washington, D.C., without being caught.

At the time of his arrest, Lara told police that he had seen his wife voluntarily get into a black Honda Accord with strange men and drive off, and denied having anything to do with her disappearance or death. His attorneys will present their evidence after the prosecution rests.

Lara was originally tried in April for the same crime, and found guilty of first-degree murder after a five-day jury trial. The jury recommended a 40-year prison sentence.

That verdict was later overturned when it was discovered that one of the juror’s had purchased newspapers containing coverage of the trial during a break in deliberation; Judge Rossie D. Alston had forbidden the jurors to view any media coverage because it could potentially taint their perception of the trial.

Lara’s second trial — which will be decided by Alston instead of a jury, per Lara’s request — will continue this morning at 9:30, when the prosecution resumes its case.

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