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The chief judge of the Fairfax Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court ruled today that Cara Cottle, the woman charged with the second-degree murder of her boyfriend Dirk Smiler, could be released on $50,000 bond following a several-hour-long preliminary hearing in which the case was sent to a Fairfax County grand jury. A date for the trial should be set tomorrow. Cottle was denied bond twice after turning herself in after Fairfax police issued an arrest warrant in March.
Cottle could be released as soon as today, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Mark J. Sullivan said after the hearing. “With the connections she has,” Sullivan said, he didn’t think meeting the bond be a problem for her, an apparent reference to Richard A. Viguerie, the conservative direct-mail pioneer. He said he was still deciding whether to appeal the bond motion. Until Feb. 15, the day Dirk Smiler, a prominent figure in D.C.’s goth scene, died, Cottle had worked Viguerie’s American Target Advertising in Manassas, Va., where Cottle’s mother, Viola Shields, is a vice president of administration.
The prominent defense attorney Peter D. Greenspun argued that because Cottle did not attempt to flee in the six weeks between Smiler’s death and her arrest, because of her good standing in the community, and because she has been attending a day treatment program and is undergoing a mental health assessment that has shown that she is not dangerous, she should not be considered a flight risk. Judge Kimberly J. Daniel agreed.
Judge Daniel also seemed to be nearly swayed by Greenspun’s argument during the preliminary hearing that the prosecution had not shown probable cause—-she characterized her decision as a “close call,” but ultimately sent the case to a Fairfax County grand jury.
The hearing, for the most part, revealed few new details in the case. According to testimony by Bryan Bruner, one of Cottle and Smiler’s roommates, on the night that Smiler died Cottle emerged from their bedroom 10 or 15 seconds after roommates heard a noise. Bruner said she was naked and covered in blood and said, “Help me, help me! I shot him!” He said that earlier that evening, he very briefly heard unintelligible “raised voices”—-Cottle’s, he said—-coming from the basement bedroom. Bruner and four other roommates lived on the first floor of their home on Little River Turnpike in Annandale.
An officer who responded to the scene that night and Det. Robert Bond, the lead homicide investigator on the case, also testified. Bond said that the weapon was an 8 millimeter Mauser rifle. Greenspun said that the investigation had shown gunpowder soot and burn marks on Smiler’s hands and face, which Bond said were indicative of a close-range gunshot, but could not have come from the weapon’s trigger area, as WaPo‘s Tom Jackman reported earlier this evening.
Responding to Greenspun’s questions, Bond said he observed bruises on Cottle’s neck the day after Smiler’s death that could have been consistent with strangling. “There are a lot of reasons for that, too,” Judge Daniel then pointed out to Greenspun. Bond said that he could not be sure if Smiler’s death had been accidental or a result of self-defense or a murder. But he said, “There is no indication that he committed suicide. There were other statements contradicting that.” According to Bond, a toxicology report showed that Smiler had a blood alcohol level of .09 at the time of his death. The ballistics test is still pending.
Two more of Smiler and Cottle’s roommates, Chablis Owens and Stephen Balázs, were present but were not called to testify. Both Smiler’s and Cottle’s mothers were present, as were Skot Braunfeld, Smiler’s best friend, and Cougar Akl, Smiler’s ex-girlfriend and the mother of his younger daughter.