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Murder case against Reston au pair tied to fatal shooting moves closer to trial

(Updated at 4/3/24) A Fairfax County judge has ruled there’s enough evidence to proceed with charges against a Reston au pair linked to a fatal shooting over a year ago.

Circuit Court Judge Michael Lindner found probable cause yesterday (Monday) to charge Juliana Peres Magalhaes, 23, in the Feb. 24, 2023, deadly shooting of Joseph Ryan, 39, at her employer’s Herndon-area home in the 13200 block of Stable Brook Way.

Police discovered Christine Banfield with stab wounds to her upper body and Ryan with two gunshot wounds to his upper body. Banfield was transported to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Ryan was declared dead at the scene.

Though the shooting and stabbing occurred in February, Peres Magalhaes wasn’t arrested until October. She remained employed by Brendan Banfield, Christine Banfield’s husband, throughout that period. The investigation into Christine Banfield’s death is ongoing, and no charges have been filed yet.

Although the judge determined there was a “fair probability” that Peres Magalhaes had used a firearm to fatally shoot Ryan, yesterday’s hearing was just an initial step to assess whether there was sufficient evidence to warrant a trial.

The hearing

Peres Magalhaes faces charges of second-degree murder, meaning the killing was intentional but not planned. However, at the preliminary hearing, prosecutors outlined events leading to Ryan’s death and introduced new evidence they said suggests the killing might have been premeditated.

Witnessess summoned for the four-hour hearing by Fairfax County Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Clingan included Fairfax County Police Detective Stephen Carter, who testified that, on the morning of Feb. 24, Peres Magalhaes left the Banfield residence to take their 4-year-old daughter to a zoo.

Brendan Banfield left earlier that morning and was allegedly at a nearby McDonald’s when he received a call from Peres Magalhaes. She reported seeing a stranger’s car in the Banfield’s driveway when she returned to the house to get their daughter’s lunch.

Brendan Banfield allegedly drove back home and went inside with Peres Magalhaes. Upon entering the bedroom, they encountered Ryan, who was fully dressed and allegedly holding a knife to an undressed Christine Banfield.

An initial 911 call was made from Peres Magalhaes’s phone at 7:47 a.m. A second call at 8:02 a.m. came from both her and Brendan Banfield, who allegedly told the dispatcher that he shot Ryan after seeing his wife get stabbed multiple times.

According to prosecutors, Banfield shot Ryan in the head before the first 911 call was placed. Peres Magalhaes told investigators that he instructed her to grab another gun from a closet several feet away that she then fired at Ryan. Assistant Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Meghan Kessler confirmed the second gunshot wound was the cause of death.

Peres Magalhaes’s lawyers argue she acted in self-defense. However, Kessler testified that Ryan’s head wound likely left him incapacitated, hindering his movement and vision. Prosecutors contended that, given Ryan’s condition after the first shot, there was no need for a second one.

Carter alleges that, when he interrogated Peres Magalhaes, she admitted to firing a second shot at Ryan but couldn’t recall if it struck him. Although Portuguese is Peres Magalhaes’s first language, the interrogation was in English. According to Carter, Peres Magalhaes didn’t request an interpreter and asked for only one term — “aluminum foil” — to be translated.

An alleged plot

Prosecutors didn’t submit evidence of the murder weapon, but they said Brendan Banfield possessed two firearms: a government-issued one for his job as an IRS criminal investigative division agent and a pistol purchased from the Silver Eagle Group Shooting Range in Ashburn.

Documents indicate that Peres Magalhaes and Brendan Banfield visited the Silver Eagle range on Dec. 23, 2023, and Banfield returned on Jan. 28, when he bought a Glock pistol for $558, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors also alleged that Brendan Banfield and Peres Magalhaes exchanged their personal cell phones for new ones four days before the shooting.

At a bond hearing in December, prosecutors argued that Peres Magalhaes and Brendan Banfield were having an affair, citing evidence purportedly found in photos on the au pair’s cellphone, according to the Washington Post.

On Monday, prosecutors displayed photos of Brendan Banfield’s bedroom, captured in October 2023 following Peres Magalhaes’ arrest, that showed three framed pictures of him and Peres Magalhaes embracing. One of the photos depicted what looked like a silk robe nightgown hanging from a dresser, though there was no evidence tying it to Peres Magalhaes.

Brendan Banfield took the stand but exercised his right against self-incrimination, declining to answer the prosecution’s questions about his relationship with Peres Magalhaes, the alleged visits to the gun range and new phone purchases, and why he reportedly went to McDonald’s instead of going to work the day of the shooting.

Defense argues prosecutors lack evidence

Peres Magalhaes’s attorney Ryan Campbell contended that the prosecution’s case hinges solely on her statement to the detective without any additional evidence to prove she shot and killed Ryan.

Campbell said there’s also no evidence proving that the firearm Brendan Banfield bought at Silver Eagle was the one used in the shooting, who fired the first shot, or that Peres Magalhaes and Brendan Banfield were engaged in an affair.

Still, the judge noted that the prosecution isn’t obligated to produce evidence in a preliminary hearing, merely to demonstrate probable cause — which he said was established by Peres Magalhaes admitting she shot at Ryan at all.

“I’m only considering what I’ve heard,” Lindner said.

A motion to reconsider Peres Magalhaes’ bond is being heard in court today (Tuesday), and the judge set an initial court date for April 18 to determine the trial schedule.

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