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Man accused of fleeing country faces trial

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Cuevas-Gonzalez charged with first-degree murder, use of firearm, possession of gun by illegal alien

By Alex Bridges-abridges@nvdaily.com

BERRYVILLE -- A Mexican man accused of fleeing the country after a shooting that left one man dead and another wounded faces a trial in May.

Attorneys for Jose M. Cuevas-Gonzalez argued the date probably doesn't give them time to prepare and likely would be changed.

Cuevas-Gonzalez, 56, of the state of Jalisco, appeared in Clarke County Circuit Court on Monday where he is charged with first-degree murder, use of a firearm and possession of a gun by an illegal alien.

Authorities have accused Cuevas-Gonzalez in the July 8, 2008, shooting death of Juan Francisco-Cortez, 22, of Charlotte, N.C., and wounding of Daniel Guerrero-Lopez, 28, in Boyce.

Judge John Wetsel Jr. scheduled a two-day trial to start May 2.

Wearing a surgical mask covering much of his face, Cuevas-Gonzalez sat with public defender Timothy Coyne and attorney Jill Curfman, as well as an interpreter who translated the proceedings for the defendant.

Cuevas-Gonzalez faces arraignment on a charge of attempted murder in the wounding on Jan. 20 in Clarke County General District Court.

Cuevas-Gonzalez remains held without bond at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center.

Commonwealth's Attorney Suzanne M. "Suni" Perka said a trial date in early May would not affect the defendant's right to a speedy trial. Coyne was quick to point out his client has not waived this right. Wetsel said the defense can file a motion to continue later if the attorney needs more time to prepare.

Coyne would not comment after the court proceeding, either about his client's need to wear the mask or the timing of the trial.

Mexican authorities apprehended Cuevas-Gonzalez in July. Local law enforcement officers from Clarke County traveled with FBI agents to Houston and picked up the suspect, according to Sheriff Anthony "Tony" Roper.

Cuevas-Gonzalez was extradited to Clarke County and arrived at the regional jail Dec. 11.

Cuevas-Gonzalez made his first appearance in the lower court on Wednesday and Judge Amy Tisinger appointed the public defender to represent him.

The judge did not set a bond on the attempted murder charge.

The Justice Department announced the defendant's extradition to the United States, among more than a dozen other people facing charges, in a Dec. 14 news release.

Citing court documents, the release states the defendant and an individual "had several angry telephone conversations about an old debt Cuevas Gonzalez owed the individual."

Cuevas-Gonzalez met the individual and an acquaintance that day, and authorities have said he shot both men before fleeing from the scene.

Law enforcement officers responded to a report of an altercation on Nelson Road and arrived to find the two alleged victims in an SUV. Francisco-Cortez died at the scene from multiple gunshot wounds.

Guerrero-Lopez survived his wounds and received treatment at a Washington hospital, according to reports from the Sheriff's Office.

The U.S. attorney's office in Harrisonburg had filed a warrant seeking Cuevas-Gonzalez' arrest on a charge of fleeing the country to avoid prosecution.

The agency filed a motion with the court Friday seeking to dismiss the charge after authorities took the defendant into custody on Dec. 11.

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