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Former fugitive sentenced in killing

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Mexican national must spend at least six years in prison

By Alex Bridges - abridges@nvdaily.com

BERRYVILLE -- A Mexican national and former fugitive must serve prison time for a 2008 shooting in Clarke County that left one man dead and another severely injured.

Judge John E. Wetsel Jr. sentenced Jose Cuevas-Gonzalez in Clarke County Circuit Court on Monday to 10 years in a state penitentiary for voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Juan Francisco-Cortez. The judge suspended four years of the term.

Authorities originally charged Cuevas-Gonzalez with first-degree murder of Francisco-Cortez, 22, and attempted murder of Daniel Guerrero-Lopez, 30, after the July 9, 2008, shooting. Cuevas-Gonzalez fled the area and returned to his native Jalisco in Mexico, where federal authorities there located him.

The slaying victim's mother, Evelia Cortez, became emotional as she testified about the loss of her son. She then made a statement directed toward the defendant.

"Why you hurt my son like that?" Cortez said, through Spanish interpreter Fabiana Borkowsky French. "He wasn't a bad person or hurt anyone. Why did you take my son's life away?"

The defense called several witnesses to speak on Cuevas-Gonzalez' behalf, including family members and friends. Doris Stimpson, the owner of the Nelson Road farm for whom the defendant worked for years before the incident, spoke highly of Cuevas-Gonzalez.

Commonwealth's Attorney Suzanne L. "Suni" Mackall argued for a stiff penalty, noting a mother has lost a son and that the other victim suffered permanent injuries. Mackall questioned why Cuevas-Gonzalez took the action he did rather than call authorities if he felt threatened.

Winchester public defender Timothy S. Coyne argued that the fact his client faces deportation upon release from prison would protect the community. However, Mackall retorted by noting Cuevas-Gonzalez could try to return to the country anyway.

The defendant showed emotion as he made a statement before sentencing.

"I'm only asking forgiveness," Cuevas-Gonzalez said through Gabriela Gueri. "It was not my intention to do that."

Cuevas-Gonzalez also asked for forgiveness from the FBI and "to all the Americans" involved in the investigation.

"I have made a mistake," the defendant said. "I must pay for my crimes."

Wetsel also ordered Cuevas-Gonzalez to serve the three-year mandatory minimum prison term for use of a firearm in the commission of the felony, as well as one year for possession of a gun by an unlawful alien.

The judge also sentenced Cuevas-Gonzalez to 20 years in prison with 19 years suspended for the malicious wounding of Daniel Guerreo-Lopez.

An agreement reached in October between the commonwealth and Coyne called for Cuevas-Gonzalez to enter an Alford plea of guilty to a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter for the slaying. In an Alford plea, the defendant maintains his innocence but acknowledges that prosecutors have enough evidence for a conviction.

The agreement called for the defendant to receive an active time of incarceration within sentencing guidelines. In this case the guidelines recommended he serve a sentence between five years and four months to 11 years and 10 months.

The consecutive prison terms fall just shy of the high end of the guidelines. After the hearing Coyne said he would have preferred his client receive a term at the low end, but the sentence falls within guidelines.

Cuevas-Gonzalez also receives credit for the five to six months he spent in the custody of Mexican authorities awaiting his return to Virginia, Wetsel said.

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