(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
Arson was behind an April 27 house fire in Annandale that cost two people and a dog their home, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department says.
Clinton James Hall, 27, was arrested yesterday (Wednesday) and charged with one count of burning or destroying a building after investigators determined that the fire in the 4900 block of Bristow Drive was “incendiary in nature.”
According to the FCFRD report, Hall started the fire on the porch of a three-story, single-family home in the Annandale Terrace neighborhood late that evening. Both residents and the dog were inside at the time.
“The dog alerted the occupants and all self-evacuated from the residence prior to fire department arrival,” the department said. “There were working smoke alarms that activated after the fire was discovered.”
Fire investigators have determined that the April 27 house fire on Bristow Dr in Annandale was incendiary in nature. The fire started on the porch. Damages as a result of the fire were approximately $461,480. https://t.co/jnJoRDo7im
— Fairfax County Fire/Rescue (@ffxfirerescue) May 3, 2023
Firefighter units were dispatched to the scene at 11:57 p.m. and arrived to find a blaze that was visible from three sides of the building. Crews “worked quickly” to extinguish the fire, and no injuries were reported.
However, the occupants and their pet were displaced, and the fire caused an estimated $461,480 in property damages.
Virginia classifies arson as a Class 3 felony if someone is inside the building when it’s burned. If convicted, Hall would face beween five and 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
The news of Hall’s arrest came the same day that a house fire farther north in Annandale took the lives of two dogs and a cat.
Updated at 5:10 p.m. — Patrick Aylas, the suspect in Thursday’s alleged arson incident, has been taken into custody, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department says.
Patrick Aylas, 54, is wanted in connection with the ongoing arson investigation.
Fire crews arrived on the 11500 block of Shadbush Court at around 4:15 a.m. yesterday to find a single-family home fully engulfed in flames, according to the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.
Fire investigators quickly determined the cause of the fire was arson. No injuries were reported.
According to authorities, the police department is “actively searching” for the man.
“Call 911 with info and do not approach,” the department tweeted.
WANTED: 54yo Patrick Aylas is wanted for arson related to a house fire that occurred this morning in the 11500 blk of Shadbush Ct, Reston. @FairfaxCountyPD officers are actively searching for him. Call 911 w/ info and do not approach. pic.twitter.com/RQxENsNyHx
— Fairfax County Fire/Rescue (@ffxfirerescue) January 12, 2023
At 4:15 a.m. today (1/12), units were dispatched for a house fire in the 11000 block of Shadbush Court in Reston. Units arrived to find a single-family home fully involved in fire. No reported injuries at this time. Fire Investigators on scene to determine cause. #FCFRD pic.twitter.com/WldBgLwhO7
— Fairfax County Fire/Rescue (@ffxfirerescue) January 12, 2023
The graffiti, which was found at the entrance of the church and multiple areas in the back, was related to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which previously guaranteed the federal protection abortion rights, according to the Fairfax County Police Department.
Although FCPD did not immediately disclose the specifics of the graffiti, the police department has stepped up patrols at places of worship following the vandalism.
Police are reviewing surveillance footage as the investigation continues. The FCPD is also working with regional law enforcement agencies on the investigation.
In a statement released yesterday, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay strongly condemned the “attack on a house of worship.”
“We will not permit any action that seeks to diminish or silence someone’s point of view, and categorically reject violence or any act of extremism, period,” McKay wrote in the statement.
The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department arrived on the scene at 6:45 a.m. yesterday after smoldering mulch was discovered at the Catholic church. Fire crews determined an accelerant was used in the fire and discovered graffiti in multiple locations.
Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the FCPD using the following information:
Anyone who may have information about this incident is asked to contact detectives at 703-478-0904. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through Crime Solvers by phone – 1-866-411-TIPS (866-411-8477), by text – Type “FCCS” plus tip to 847411, and by web – Click HERE. Download our Mobile tip411 App “Fairfax Co Crime Solvers”. Anonymous tipsters are eligible for cash rewards of $100 to $1,000 dollars. Please leave contact information if you wish for a detective to follow up with you.
The church did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A man is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in court on May 25 after allegedly setting the Fairfax City Goodwill store ablaze.
The 20-year-old Fairfax resident is charged with arson of an occupied building following a Jan. 17 fire at the used clothing and goods retailer, located at 9960 Main Street.
While the nonprofit’s insurance covered the damagees, which exceeded $18,500, the blaze required the store’s donation center to close for a day, resulting in lost revenue and much-needed donations, according to spokesman Brendan Hurley of Goodwill of Greater Washington.
“People are holding onto their goods longer, which means they’re donating less,” he told FFXnow.
At the same time, more people are shopping at Goodwill stores in the region, with sales up about 13.5% between the first quarter of 2021 and first quarter of 2022, which represents about 51,000 transactions, according to the nonprofit.
Hurley said in an email that the donations help the organization’s mission of also providing free job training, education, and employment services.
The defendant in the arson case was being held at the Caroline Detention Facility in Caroline County, as of March 7, in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He lives in Fairfax and worked at a pizzeria, according to court documents.
In January, the man allegedly stood in front of the parking area of the store and watched the fire grow for several minutes before leaving the area.
“The suspect in the video was wearing a full zip jacket with a half face ski mask and was periodically smoking a cigarette,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Andrew Bolton wrote in a March 22 court filing.
While fire investigators were on scene, the man allegedly returned and identified himself by name when questioned.
Police used surveillance video from cameras at the store in their investigation and arrested him Jan. 22, according to court documents.