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Man who stabbed woman in Seven Corners, set body on fire convicted of murder

Police respond to The Villages at Falls Church after Silvia Vaca Abacay’s murder (photo by Ed O’Carroll)

(Updated at 11:35 a.m.) An Arlington man could be sentenced to life in prison for fatally stabbing a woman and setting her body on fire in a Seven Corners condominium last year.

A Fairfax County Circuit Court jury has convicted 48-year-old Richard Montano of first-degree murder and arson for killing Silvia Vaca Abacay, whose body he subsequently attempted to burn, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano announced yesterday (Thursday).

“As Commonwealth’s Attorney, I’ve seen considerable crime scenes and photos, but the photos from this case stood out in terms of the severity of the victim’s injuries,” Descano said in a statement. “Nothing can undo Silvia’s death, but a conviction ensures that the defendant is no longer a danger to members of our community. I hope today’s verdict provides the victim’s family with the first step towards healing.”

Officers were called to a condo on Willston Place in The Villages at Falls Church at 3:05 p.m. on Aug. 10, 2022 for a man and woman who were heard arguing, Fairfax County Police Department Major Crimes Bureau Commander Ed O’Carroll said at the time.

Abacay had been stabbed multiple times, and her body was on fire when police found her. Though first responders extinguished the fire, she died at the scene.

According to police, a witness reported seeing a man flee the scene, prompting an extensive search of the area that briefly required residents to shelter in place. Montano was arrested at his home in Arlington around 6:30 p.m. that same day.

He was originally charged with second-degree murder, arson in an occupied dwelling and burglary with the intent to commit murder.

Descano’s office says prosecutors asked the jury to find Montano guilty of first-degree murder, noting that murder charges typically have some built-in flexibility allowing a jury or judge to determine if a first degree, second degree or manslaughter charge is most appropriate.

“Murder charges are usually indicted as second-degree because that is based on the information/evidence available at the time,” Laura Birnbaum, public information officer for the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, said by email. “Then, at trial, prosecutors can ask a jury or judge to find either first or second depending on the level of premeditation.”

The burglary charge was dropped at a preliminary hearing last fall, Birnbaum confirmed.

During a trial that began on Monday (Oct. 2), prosecutors made the case that Montano had mistaken Abacay for her friend, who had broken up with him after an eight-year relationship in July. Abacay was temporarily living at her friend’s apartment.

“A neighbor’s Ring camera footage showed that Montano had entered her apartment without her knowledge multiple times in the preceding month, with his last entry just 10 days before the murder occurred,” the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office said. “The same neighbor called 911 four times that afternoon after hearing screaming and banging from across the hall.”

The neighbor testified to a judge at the preliminary hearing in November that his last 911 call was to tell responders that “there was smoke and fire coming out of the building,” DC News Now reported.

Medical examiners determined that Abacay died from the stab wounds before Montano set her body on fire, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office says.

The murder and arson charges both carry potential life sentences. Montano is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 19, 2024.

Photo courtesy Ed O’Carroll/Twitter

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