Plea halted in "goth" slaying case
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.
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