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Posted at 12:45 PM ET, 02/28/2011

Plea halted in "goth" slaying case

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post editors

A Fairfax County woman entered a plea Monday morning in the slaying of a well-known District nightlife figure last year, but the hearing broke down as the woman's lawyer tried to build a case for the future dismissal of all charges.

Nathan "Dirk" Smiler, 37, lived with his girlfriend, Cara Cottle, in a rented house on Little River Turnpike in the Annandale area. Prosecutors said Cottle, 32, a former Marine, shot Smiler once in the head with a bolt-action rifle on Feb. 15, 2010, killing him instantly in their basement bedroom.

Update, 8:11 p.m.:

Facing a murder trial on Monday, Cottle and her attorney, Peter D. Greenspun, negotiated a plea deal with prosecutors to reduce the charge to involuntary manslaughter. Cottle would then enter an "Alford plea," in which a defendant doesn't admit guilt but acknowledges that prosecutors have enough evidence for a conviction. The plea has the same effect as a guilty plea.

Cottle entered her Alford plea before Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Michael F. Devine Monday morning. But after Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Mark Sullivan gave a summary of the shooting, Greenspun launched a more detailed version of events, to include tape-recorded statements by witnesses.

Sullivan objected, saying he wasn't expecting a defense presentation at what is typically a short hearing. Greenspun said he wanted the judge to hear a detailed version of the crime so that he could consider it before issuing a sentence.

Manslaughter carries a sentence range of probation up to 10 years in prison. Virginia's voluntary sentencing guidelines recommended a sentence for Cottle, a first-time offender, of probation to six months in jail. Greenspun told Devine that he would be arguing for a suspended imposition of sentence for Cottle, under a recent Virginia Supreme Court ruling that gives judges discretion to do so.

A suspended imposition means judges have the discretion to suspend a case for a certain period, often a year. If the defendant doesn't commit any violations in that period, the case is dismissed entirely. The "SIS" is typically used by judges who want to grant a break to first-time offenders in non-violent crimes, often drug possession cases.

Before Greenspun could present his version of the final minutes between Cottle and Smiler -- Sullivan said Smiler had held the rifle to his head and dared Cottle to pull the trigger; Cottle told police she didn't know the World War II-era rifle was loaded -- the judge decided to give the prosecution more time to prepare its response.

The hearing was continued to 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Smiler was a sommelier and waiter at a restaurant in Potomac, Md. But he was also a popular fixture in the Goth nightclub scene in the District as well as the science fiction and renaissance festival communities in the region.

This post has been updated to reflect that Greenspun is seeking a suspended imposition of sentence in the case, not a suspended sentence.

By Tom Jackman  | February 28, 2011; 12:45 PM ET
Categories:  Fairfax, Homicide, Tom Jackman  
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probation for manslaughter? you have to be kidding.

Posted by: patrick_f_dye | February 28, 2011 1:55 PM | Report abuse

She needs to do serious time. This is total BS.

Posted by: Nymous | February 28, 2011 2:09 PM | Report abuse

we obviously dont have all the details. I cant understand probabtion to 6 months for shooting someone in the head. I can't believe there was no publicity over this, this is the first i have heard about it. It's amazing that plexico burress spends a full two years in jail for shooting "himself" in the leg and this woman shot someone in the head and will basically walk away scott free. she must have alot of money.

Posted by: cwbysmith | February 28, 2011 2:19 PM | Report abuse

It's amazing that plexico burress spends a full two years in jail for shooting "himself" in the leg and this woman shot someone in the head and will basically walk away scott free. she must have alot of money.
Have a lot of money and not be a minority. This is bs, she didn't know it was loaded?!! Drug dealer with small quantities of drugs faces 3-9, murder suspended sentence. I wouldn't be surprised if the WaPo doesn't follow up on this story.

Posted by: ClevenderInDC | February 28, 2011 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Apparently Virginia has a new motto: VIRGINIA IS FOR MURDERERS.

Posted by: Captain Silver | February 28, 2011 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Most, if not all of Cottle's "defense" is based upon hearsay and unprovable b.s.

And who or what is paying notorious ambulance and getaway car chaser Greenspun's $700 an hour fee?

Posted by: jismquiff | February 28, 2011 3:21 PM | Report abuse

To cwbysmith - This occurred in February 2010. She has been out on bail for a full year. There were more details in longer articles written back then by Tom Jackman. I can't recall if it ever made the front page, but it probably did not.

Posted by: lilkender | February 28, 2011 4:03 PM | Report abuse

@lilkender don't know about WaPO but it got a 2 page spread in City Paper.

Posted by: shadow27 | February 28, 2011 4:40 PM | Report abuse

White America.Crazy let that have been a minority,they throw the book at you for a little pot,or D.W.B and she gonna walk on this.

Posted by: rickisclear | February 28, 2011 8:55 PM | Report abuse

This is an outrage of epic proportions. This has already drawn on for over a year. There is a tragic death unaccounted for, and a woman who was trained to handle and RESPECT firearms at the other end of the trigger finger.

There will be a Goth riot in DC.

Posted by: SuzGerber | March 1, 2011 2:22 PM | Report abuse

I know both parties involved and there is no doubt that Cottle killed Dirk, either in cold blood or in a fit of rage. Frankly, I don't see where it matters which.

We live in a society where you can put a bullet between your sig-other's eyes and walk, but if you get caught with drugs...well, God help you. Everyone should feel let down by the system, because a murderer is about to walk based on the amount of money her parents have thrown at the problems she created for herself. It is a sick and disturbing reminder that justice isn't really blind, just color-blind to anything that isn't *green*.

Posted by: c3vink | March 1, 2011 3:08 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe that casual drug users are put in jail until trial/plea deal and kept in jail until sentencing but a MURDERER is allowed to go free. What's worse, under the Hernandez decision, if she's a good little girl and doesn't kill anyone else they will let her walk free. This is not justice and the Hernandez Decision being used for VIOLENT crime is a miscarriage of justice.

Posted by: ebwolk | March 3, 2011 8:28 AM | Report abuse

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