Both sides rest in Lara trial

After prosecutors and defense attorneys rested Wednesday, the defense attorney for the Manassas man accused of murdering his wife and dumping her body in Washington, D.C., asked that the charge against his client be dismissed.

Defense attorney Jon E. Shields urged Circuit Court Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. to dismiss the first-degree murder charge for two different reasons. Shields argued that prosecutors hadn’t presented evidence that Marissa Lara was killed in Manassas, and he argued that prosecutors hadn’t presented sufficient evidence that Gerardo Lara killed Marissa Lara for the case to go to the jury.

Judge Alston denied Shields’ requests, though he agreed the prosecution’s case is “highly circumstantial.” Both issues Shields raised were mixed questions of law and of fact, Alston said. He ruled that the jury’s first decision, when they begin deliberating today, is to decide if Marissa Lara was killed within Prince William County.

Lara’s boyfriend reported her missing to Manassas police May 13, 2003. That morning, she had gone to her estranged husband’s home at 8954 Cannon Ridge to get their two sons, then 16 and 13, ready for school. Gerardo Lara, her husband, is the last person known to have seen her. He told police that she left his home in a black Honda with Washington, D.C., license plates shortly after arriving. A week later, a parking enforcement officer discovered Marissa Lara’s body in the back seat of her car in Washington, D.C.

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Lara gets another day in court

In order for a court to hear a criminal case, the alleged crime must have taken place within its jurisdiction. Shields claimed there was insufficient evidence that Marissa Lara was killed in Prince William County and not in Washington, D.C. Shields also claimed there was insufficient evidence that Gerardo Lara killed his wife.

When police called him the day she went missing, he cooperated and gave them permission to search his house, Shields said. Shields reminded the judge that no body was ever found in the house, in Marissa Lara’s car that remained in the driveway the first day, or in Gerardo Lara’s car. Various forensic tests were inconclusive. The house and Gerardo Lara’s car were searched for blood, and none was found. No murder weapon was found, Shields said.

“In terms of evidence in this case, there is no physical evidence Mrs. Lara was killed in Virginia,” Shields said.

Prosecutors pointed to evidence of similar white feathers, believed to be from a comforter in the home thrown out sometime during the week Marissa Lara was missing. One feather was found in Marissa Lara’s car, another in Gerardo Lara’s car, and some in Lara’s home, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jerrold J. Negin said. Lara’s body was wrapped in a sleeping bag that her older son, Gerardo Lara Jr., identified Monday as looking like his.

Negin also pointed to the two sets of keys police found to Marissa Lara’s black Mitsubishi Eclipse. A Manassas Mitsubishi technician testified Tuesday that both keys unlocked and started the car. One set of keys was found in the kitchen after Marissa Lara’s body was found in the Eclipse, Negin said. The other set, still with dealership tags, was found in a briefcase underneath the master bed, Manassas City Police Detective Louis D. DeRamus III testified.

Prosecutors believe that the black Honda Lara told police about is a fabrication. Pointing to disparate accounts the two gave to DeRamus and Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department Detective Dewayne Corbett, they argue that Lara convinced his sons to corroborate his story.

“The only way to keep [the case] from going to the jury is if the court finds there is no possible way the crime could have occurred in Manassas City,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney William E. Jarvis said.

In addition, Negin and Jarvis insisted they do have some direct evidence: the testimony of two former Manassas jail inmates who were housed in the same cellblock as Gerardo Lara in 2003. The second testified Wednesday morning. Terry William Whitmer, 27, testified that he was a cellmate of Gerardo Lara’s in the Manassas jail. The two talked about what they were in jail for, Whitmer said. Lara told him that he would be bonded out soon because prosecutors had no evidence on him, Whitmer said Wednesday. Whitmer said they also talked about a woman whose body had been found in a car in Washington, D.C., as the story had been on the news.

“I thought the woman had been shot. His response was, ‘She wasn’t shot, she was stabbed three times in the head,’ ” Whitmer testified. “He put her in the back of her vehicle, covered her in a sleeping bag and some articles of clothing … and dropped the car off in Washington, D.C.”

Though defense attorney William Boge questioned Whitmer about these details, Whitmer maintained he hadn’t heard them on the news. DeRamus testified that details of the cause of death and how the body was hidden weren’t released to the press at that time.

Additionally, Whitmer said, Lara told him that his “girlfriend” worked at Good Guys in Washington, D.C., and that he had caught her with another gentleman at Old Country Buffet in Manassas. Marissa worked as a waitress at the Buffet at the time of her death, but had ceased stripping at Good Guys some months prior to her disappearance, a friend testified Monday.

Lara also told Whitmer that he drove a dump truck with a Bobcat.

“He stated he should have used the Bobcat and buried her,” Whitmer said.

Boge also asked Whitmer if Lara made the statement hypothetically, but Whitmer said not. Boge also asked Whitmer about the charges pending against him: aggravated malicious wounding and attempted robbery. Whitmer said he expects to enter guilty pleas to the charges this month.

Lara’s trial will continue today with closing statements before the jury begins deliberating.