Responding to a report of a stabbing, on Oct. 7, 2006, Fairfax County police rushed to a home in The Meadows community of Centreville.
There, they found a murdered, 26-year-old man and a trail of blood from the victim's body to a neighbor's home. Soon afterward, police arrested the neighbor and charged him with the offense.
But now fingerprint evidence has cleared him and the case against him has been dropped. As a result, Andres Ramirez-Terraza, 22, is now a free man.
The murder occurred shortly before 10:15 p.m. after a fight that turned violent. The victim, Vicente Lopez-Brito, lived on Saguaro Place, as did Ramirez-Terraza. Police said Lopez-Brito was stabbed in the upper body and was unarmed.
According to an affidavit written by homicide Det. David Allen, a citizen walking his dog told police he'd observed a fight in front of Lopez-Brito's home and then saw the people involved run toward Ramirez-Terraza's home.
"Located on the top step leading to the entrance of [Ramirez-Terraza's home], police located the handle of a knife," wrote Allen. "Additional officers located blood near the back door of [that residence]."
Police also said that at least two knives were found, the night of the murder, and a neighbor discovered the blade to the retrieved knife-handle, the following day. They also said the fight occurred outside and in the foyer of Lopez-Brito's home after several men went there and confronted some acquaintances. They began arguing and things quickly escalated into a physical altercation.
Only Ramirez-Terraza was arrested, however. But when his case first came to General District Court, Feb. 6, it was continued. Police had obtained prints of the defendant's fingers and palms, the day before, but the analysis results had not yet come back.
It was critically important, explained public defender Dawn Butorac to Judge Lisa Mayne, because she contended that the police had arrested the wrong person. Said Butorac: "We believe it wasn't he who committed the crime."
She and Ramirez-Terraza returned to court on Monday, March 5 and, at that time, Butorac's suspicions proved correct. Telling the judge, "We believe someone else is responsible for the crime," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Greg Holt made a motion to drop the charge against him.
"When the fingerprint analysis came back, the fingerprints on the weapon did not match Ramirez-Terraza's," said Butorac. "And witnesses who didn't see the actual stabbing, but who saw the altercation, didn't show up today to testify."
Mayne then officially dropped the charge against the young man and he was free to go. Afterward, in the hallway outside the courtroom, Butorac told her client the police realized someone else committed the murder. Then, walking away, she wished him "good luck."