(Updated at 3:40 p.m.) The Alexandria woman whose infant died after being locked in a hot car for six hours on a sweltering July day pleaded guilty today to felony child neglect.
Zoraida Magal Conde Hernandez, 32, submitted an Alford plea, meaning she accepts the verdict without technically admitting guilt in the case. Hernandez and Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos agreed to two years and six months of probation, and, barring a violation, a dismissal of charges after that.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Molly Newton said Hernandez, after dropping two other children off at their summer activities in Alexandria, forgot that her 8-month-old son was strapped in his car seat when she drove to her job at the Catholic Diocese of Arlington and locked her car in the parking lot.
Newton said it was only when she picked up her 3-year-old daughter on July 5 at 3:30 p.m. did she notice the baby was purple and not breathing. Hernandez then drove to Inova Alexandria Hospital, where the baby was pronounced dead from hyperthermia with an internal temperature of 108 degrees.
“It has been a very difficult case for everyone involved,” Newton told the judge. “We’ve always believed the case has been a crime. The reaction from the community has not been such.”
Newton said that sympathy for the mother in similar cases has led to acquittals despite the evidence. Stamos said after the plea hearing that, in some jurisdictions, Hernandez’s crime wouldn’t bring charges. It’s unusual, Stamos said, for a felony case to “be adjudicated without a finding of guilt.”
“Clearly there are strong views on either side of this,” Stamos said. “It was difficult for the arresting officer, the medical examiner and the physicians involved.”
Stamos said an incident of a child dying in a hot car hadn’t happened in Arlington in 28 years. If Hernandez had been found guilty by a jury, she could have been incarcerated for anywhere from one day to five years. Newton said that, because Hernandez was incarcerated for two weeks before and after her bond hearing, the Commonwealth’s Attorney felt further incarceration wasn’t necessary.
“We want her to be accountable,” Newton said. “By entering this plea, she is. She has done everything we have wanted her to do.”
Hernandez’s other four children are still with Child Protective Services in Alexandria, and her case is making its way through that city’s administrative and court system, Newton said. Hernandez didn’t noticeably react during the proceeding, which took a little less than a half hour, even when Newton read the prosecution’s account of July 5′s event.
Photo via ACPD
Michael Cullen, of no fixed address, received a 12-year jail sentence for the thefts. He pleaded guilty to eight counts of grand larceny with the intent to sell, and one count of possession of burglarious tools. Cullen has the ability to suspend four years of his sentence if full restitution is paid to his victims.
“In Arlington, we have the ability to prosecute all types of cases,” said Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos. “Protecting the property of residents is of the utmost importance and thieves such as Michael Cullen will be prosecuted to the fullest.”
Because recent data compiled by the police department indicated bike thefts are at an all-time high, the Arlington County Police Department’s Burglary/Larceny Unit spearheaded a regional police cooperation to reduce the amount of bicycle thefts and to identify suspects. An increase in patrols and surveillance, along with hours of police detective work, led to a number of arrests.
Police say the following individuals have been arrested, in addition to Michael Cullen, as part of the regional bike theft crackdown:
- “Aldrick Johnson was observed on video attempting to break into an apartment building. Security called police and Mr. Johnson was apprehended. He pled guilty to possession of burglarious tools and burglary and received a sentence of four years with three years suspended.”
- “Ositafimma Emegbuism was Aldrick Johnson’s co-defendant. Mr. Emegbuism pled guilty to unlawful entry and received 6 months.”
- “John Sears was apprehended after a citizen observed him tampering with a bicycle inside of a parking garage. Police located Sears with a stolen bicycle in his possession not far from the incident. The bicycle had a cut cable lock and the rear tire was partially removed. Warrants for possession of burglarious tools, possession of drug paraphernalia, providing false ID to law enforcement, attempted grand larceny, destruction of property, and credit card theft were obtained.”
- “Irvin Coleman was identified as a suspect in multiple bike larcenies in Arlington, Fairfax, and Alexandria after pawning multiple bikes on separate occasions. Warrants were obtained for Coleman for his involvement in the theft/pawning of bicycles from Ballston Mall. Coleman avoided apprehension for some time but was eventually arrested. Coleman is currently held in Fairfax on no bond. His preliminary hearing for his Arlington charge, grand larceny with intent to sell, is currently set for October 24, 2013.”
- “Howard Montgomery was stopped after an officer observed him riding one bike while rolling a second beside him. He admitted that the bikes did not belong to him. After further investigation, it was determined that these bikes were stolen from a secured bike cage in an apartment building. Montgomery is to be indicted on charges of possession of burglarious tools, grand larceny and grand larceny with intent to sell.”
- “Five juveniles involved with bike thefts from Thomas Jefferson Middle School have been identified and adjudicated. A pre-sentence investigation was ordered for all suspects. Four of the defendants were sentenced. One juvenile is still pending.”
In some of the cases, the bicycles were recovered and returned to their rightful owners. Police continue to ask people to register their bikes for this very reason.
“We encourage people to register their bikes because if there is a bike recovered, then it’s not a long process to figure out who it belongs to,” said police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck.
Cyclists can register bikes online, and will receive a registration decal to place on the bike. Owners should also take a photo of their bicycle and record the serial number and any distinguishing features it may have.
Anyone who has had a bicycle stolen or who notices suspicious behavior around bike racks should call the Arlington County Police Department non-emergency number at 703-558-2222.
The sexual battery charge against Lt. Col Jeffrey Krusinski — the former chief of the U.S. Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response branch — has been dropped, but Arlington County prosecutors intend to charge him with regular assault instead.
Police arrested Krusinski in May after an incident that we’re told began near Freddie’s Beach Bar and Restaurant on 23rd Street S. in Crystal City, and then carried over to a nearby parking lot. He is accused of grabbing the breasts and buttocks of a woman he didn’t know.
At the time, Krusinski was chief of the Air Force’s program to prevent sexual assault, but he was removed from that position shortly after his arrest. According to the Air Force Times, a female two-star general now leads the branch.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos said dropping the sexual assault charge is a procedural move. Prosecutors are seeking a grand jury indictment for the new assault charge on August 19.
The change means the case can now head to Circuit Court instead of General District Court. It prevents a potential extra step in the prosecution, since convictions in the lower court can be appealed to the Circuit Court.
Just as with sexual battery, a charge of assault and battery is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia and carries similar maximum penalties — a fine and up to one year in jail. The main difference is that prosecutors do not have to make the case for lewd behavior or intent.
Krusinski’s attorney, Barry Coburn, released the following statement today:
One of the most critical tasks prosecutors perform is the exercise of prosecutorial discretion: deciding how a case should be charged. Here, the prosecutors in Arlington County have exercised their discretion with care and judgment. While we respectfully disagree with the decision to charge Lt. Col. Krusinski with any offense, and look forward to defending our client at trial, we very much appreciate the care and diligence with which these prosecutors reached the conclusion that a sex offense could not legitimately be charged in this case.
Charging decisions such as this one must be based on the facts and the law of each individual case, not on politics or the desire to have a “teachable moment” concerning issues such as sexual abuse in the military. It is noteworthy that the reason this case became highly publicized was the combination of Col. Krusinski’s job responsibilities in the Air Force and the fact that he initially was arrested for misdemeanor sexual battery. His name and photograph were in virtually every newspaper in the country for these reasons. Now a decision has been reached by careful, responsible prosecutors that that was not the correct charge. This sequence of events hopefully will, in the future, give all of us, particularly persons of great responsibility, pause before we make premature judgments about pending criminal cases before trial, particularly cases involving individuals who have devoted their entire professional lives to military service.
Arlington County Board member Barbara Favola has decisively won the acrimonious race for the 31st District state Senate seat. With all precincts reporting, Favola has captured 65 percent of the vote to Jaime Areizaga-Soto’s 35 percent. Favola will face a well-funded Republican challenger, Caren Merrick, in November.
Del. Adam Ebbin, meanwhile, has squeaked by Alexandria City Councilman Rob Krupicka in the three-way race for the 30th District state Senate seat. With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Ebbin has 39 percent of the vote to Kupricka’s 36 percent and Arlington school board member Libby Garvey’s 25 percent. Ebbin will face Republican hopeful Timothy McGhee in November.
Alfonso Lopez will be the 49th District’s next House of Delegates member, succeeding the victorious Ebbin. Lopez defeated Stephanie Clifford 66 percent to 34 percent with all precincts reporting. Lopez will be running unopposed in the fall.
Finally, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos will be getting a bigger office. Stamos handily fended off defense attorney David Deane in the race for Commonwealth’s Attorney in Arlington. Stamos captured 82 percent of the vote to Deane’s 18 percent. Stamos does not have a challenger in the general election.
Arlington elections officials say that 10.3 percent of the county’s active registered voters cast a ballot during today’s election.
“Not so bad for [a] predicted slow primary day [with an] earthquake,” officials said via Twitter.
Here is the unedited response from Theo Stamos:
My name is Theo Stamos and I am running for Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church. For the past 25 years I have been on the front lines of the criminal justice system, beginning as an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in 1987 and serving as Chief Deputy since 2002. I have prosecuted and supervised the prosecution of thousands of cases, always guided by the truth that the role of a prosecutor is to seek justice for victims and fairness for all.
I am honored to have the endorsement of my friend and mentor, Dick Trodden, our out-going CA, as well as the support of the Arlington Coalition of Police, the Falls Church Police Association and the Arlington County Deputy Sheriff’s Association. These dedicated public servants are the people who know my work best and see me in court every day.
My devotion to our community is a deeply personal one. My husband and I have been so fortunate to raise our two sons here. As a participant in Leadership Arlington, as board member of Offender Aid and Restoration, and as a member of the PTA at Arlington Traditional School, Swanson Middle School and Yorktown High School, I have developed a broad appreciation for the values of the community we call home.
Since announcing my candidacy last December I have knocked on more than 10,000 doors, introducing myself to voters, listening to their concerns and making the case for their support. In countless conversations I have been heartened and encouraged; heartened by the expressions of care and concern for our community, and encouraged to continue to fight for what is right for victims, witnesses, and criminal defendants.
During my tenure I initiated our office’s Domestic Violence Rapid Response Team to better coordinate our response to victims of domestic violence. I am also proud of our office’s role in starting “Second Chance,” a diversion and early intervention program for first-time youth drug and alcohol offenders set to begin this fall. I have been working with other community leaders to modernize our approach to drug possession cases. Using lessons learned elsewhere from the success of Drug Courts, we are working on an Arlington-specific model with the goal of fewer convictions, less incarceration, more treatment and less recidivism.
As Commonwealth’s Attorney I intend to expand our outreach to communities who may feel reluctant to report crimes. Our office speaks for all victims of crime no matter how those victims happened to arrive in Arlington. We will allow no language barrier, no cultural divide, no question of documentation to prevent victims from having their day in court to confront their assailant.
I am committed to diversity within our prosecutorial ranks. Although we do not currently have any bi-lingual assistant CAs, we have in the past and hope to have more in the future. But the ability to connect with witnesses and victims, earn their trust and make sure that they testify clearly and truthfully is not dependent on everyone speaking the same language. Compassion, empathy and trust are universal languages and are most prized in our office.
I am honored to serve the people of Arlington County and the City of Falls Church. I ask for your support and for your vote Tuesday, August 23.