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Crime Trend Reads Like Novel

Shootings, dismemberment, cyberspace theft and strangulation crimes were committed during 2004.

Loudoun’s crime pattern read like a suspense novel in 2004 with shootings, dismemberment, cyberspace theft, and strangulation.

Matthew Lathram pleaded guilty in August to involuntary manslaughter and six felony drug and gun charges. In December, a Circuit Court judge sentenced Lathram, a juvenile when he accidentally killed 15-year-old Nicholas Shomaker, as an adult to 65 years in jail, with all but 25 years suspended.

Circuit Court Judge James H. Chamblin disregarded pleas to have Lathram, who turned 18 in August, spend all or part of his sentence in the Juvenile Detention Center. The judge said the defendant had acted like an adult so he should be treated like one.

He said the harsh sentence served notice to area teenagers as to how Loudoun County residents view drug and gun violations. “They don’t like drugs, and they don’t like the killing that comes with drugs,” he said.

PRAVEEN MANDANAPUS, a native of India and resident of Broadlands, was charged with first-degree murder in the June 12 slaying of his wife, Divya. Her head and torso were found in a suitcase in a South Riding Dumpster two days later.

Family and Domestic Relations District Court Judge Avelina Jacob ruled last month that there was probable cause to believe Mandanapus committed the crime. A grand jury will deliberate on Jan. 10 and if an indictment is handed down, a trial date will be set on Jan. 11.

During the hearing, a criminal investigator testified that Mandanapus pleaded with deputy sheriffs to help him die so he could join his wife, after he allegedly admitted strangling her and then cutting off her limbs because her body was too heavy to carry and throw into a Dumpster.

A JURY FOUND Mauricio Cerritos, 23, of Herndon, guilty of felony murder and robbery in August. On Tuesday, he was sentenced to 40 years for felony murder and 10 years for robbery, to run concurrently.

Fisher said he is confident, though, that Cerritos did not act alone in the strangulation of Margarita Gonzalez, a 40-year-old Herndon resident who died on the night of Dec. 25, 2003.

Law enforcement authorities described the crime as a robbery gone bad. Gonzalez was known to carry cash and jewelry she had bought from a wholesaler in Washington, D.C., they said. She had to be killed because she recognized Cerritos, they said. The woman’s body was found Dec. 26 on Shaw Road in Sterling.

During his trial, Cerritos named two men as the murderers, but Fisher said the defendant cannot be believed. “I’m not confident it’s the same two people he named in court,” Fisher said. “Given his lies and how incredible he is, we can’t really base much on what Mr. Cerritos says about who his two companions were.”

TYRONE SMITH, 20, of Leesburg, was found guilty in May of the second degree murder of John Zimmerman, 38, of Leesburg. Police say he fired several shots into the window of Zimmerman’s home in March, striking the victim twice.

JAMES HARRIS, 25, of Manassas, was sentenced to seven years, with six years and eight months suspended, for killing his 60-year-old grandmother, Edith Wanzer, of Sterling. He lived with her prior to an altercation that resulted in the murder, law enforcement officials said. Evidence showed he probably strangled the woman.

Harris was sentenced in August after pleading no contest to involuntary manslaughter to the 1995 crime. In a plea agreement, the original first-degree murder charged was reduced to involuntary manslaughter. In January of 2001, Harris was released based on a now overturned Virginia Supreme Court ruling that said both parents of a juvenile needed to be served with written notice of juvenile court proceedings. Notice was given to his mother only, officials said.

AMERICA ONLINE employee Jason Smathers was charged in June with stealing the company’s entire subscriber list and selling it to an Internet marketer.

AOL worked with federal authorities to nab Smathers, 24, of Harper’s Ferry, W.Va. The subscriber list contained 92 million customer screen names. The list represented about 30 million customers, who each had the ability to create multiple screen names.

He was charged with conspiracy to transport stolen goods across state lines, gaining access to computers and sending bulk e-mails with disguised origins. He faces up to five years in prison and at least $250,000 in fines.