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Murder Evidence Presented

Charged with murder, Mauricio Cerritos to appear before Loudoun grand jury on March 9.

Dressed in orange Loudoun County Jail jumpsuits, one inmate faced another while three sheriff deputies stood directly behind him in Loudoun General District Court.

With chains shackled to his feet, Mauricio Cerritos, 23, of Herndon, was led by deputies to a chair at the defendant's table of the Loudoun courtroom last Thursday, Feb. 26.

A Spanish interpreter sat to his right, translating court proceedings as Cerritos watched Miguel Flores, 22, implicate Cerritos in the murder of Herndon resident Margarita Gonzalez, 40.

Gonzalez, who resold jewelry that she bought in Washington D.C. to support herself, was known to carry large amounts of cash, according to an affidavit for a search warrant filed in Fairfax Circuit Court by John W. Russ Jr., a deputy sheriff with the Loundoun County Sheriff's Office.

Gonzalez was found murdered Dec. 26 in a parking lot used to store construction and landscaping equipment in Sterling.

INMATE FLORES TESTIFIED that he and Cerritos were placed in the same jail cellblock and that Cerritos, who was arrested on Jan. 15, approached him to talk. Flores said their conversation lasted 10 to 15 minutes.

"He and his cousin had plans to rob a woman for cash," Flores said. "When things went sour, he and his cousin decided to kill her."

"He told me he had not committed the murder; he said it was his cousin," Flores said. "He said all he did was put the rope around her neck." Flores said Cerritos told him that when the robbery "went bad," that it was Cerritos' cousin who strangled her.

Cerritos said that he had left a piece of rope in a pickup truck that police later found, according to Flores, who is jailed for violating probation on convictions of drug possession and attempt to distribute marijuana.

Flores, who has already been sentenced for violating his probation, said two detectives came to talk with him. "They wanted to know what Mr. Cerritos' behavior was like in the receiving block," Flores said.

TWO POLICE INVESTIGATORS testified at the preliminary hearing, including investigator Doug Taylor who said Gonzalez was found kneeling "with her arms dangling in front of her and rope tied around her neck."

Taylor and Chris Hines described three crime scene photographs that were submitted to the court as evidence.

Following the testimony of the witnesses and the evidence that prosecutor Jim Fisher presented, General District Court Judge Julia Cannon ruled that Fisher showed enough evidence to send Cerritos to a Loudoun County grand jury on March 9.

If the grand jury believes there is sufficient evidence, Cerritos will be prosecuted in Loudoun County Circuit Court.

MORE ARRESTS could still be made, according to the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office.

Crime Solvers received a tip on Jan. 2, 2004, indicating that a person — later identified as Cerritos' girlfriend — obtained jewelry from him and that the jewelry had been pawned at a pawnshop in Herndon or Fairfax, according to Fairfax court documents.

Investigators went to the Herndon Pawnshop on Jan. 3, 2004 and learned that Cerritos' girlfriend received $125 for the sale of 12 pieces of jewelry approximately 24 hours after the discovery of Gonzalez' body.

The jewelry was seized and photographed, and the manager of the store where Gonzalez often bought jewelry identified the merchandise to be the type she sold to Gonzalez, according to court documents.

No additional arrests have been made, but the investigation is still continuing, said Kraig Troxell, public information officer for the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office.

GONZALEZ IMMIGRATED to the United States from El Salvador a decade ago. Before her murder, she had learned that her brother in El Salvador was a donor match for the kidney transplant she needed. Her brother planned to travel to the United States to donate his kidney to her. Instead, Gonzalez' body was flown back to El Salvador for burial.

Gonzalez had been receiving dialysis treatment three times a week. When she failed to show up for an appointment the day after Christmas, her family reported her missing to the Herndon Police, initiating a missing person's search.

That same morning, the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office was trying to identify the woman's body that was found in the Sterling parking lot. When Loudoun investigators matched the description of Gonzalez to the body they had found, Herndon's missing person's report became a murder investigation.

GONZALEZ' SISTER, who sat three rows behind prosecutor Fisher with a translator next to her, last saw Gonzalez on Dec. 25, 2003 when she drove her to Reston to conduct some business, according to the affidavit in Fairfax Circuit Court.

"[She] said that the victim's roommate had told her that the victim had gone out with an unknown person to Sterling to collect money and that she did not return home."

Gonzalez' nephew believed she left that night with more than $2,000 worth of jewelry in her purse, according to Russ' affidavit.

"It was the last time she was seen alive," Russ wrote.