Bedford murder suspect found competent to stand trial, judge denies request to try gang charge separately

Bedford murder suspect found competent to stand trial, judge denies request to try gang charge separately

BEDFORD, Va. (WDBJ7) -- A trial date has been scheduled for one of the five men accused of carrying out a gang-related murder in Bedford County.

After ruling that Jose Coreas-Ventura was competent to stand trial during a motions hearing Tuesday, Judge Jim Updike scheduled jury selection in the case to begin March 9, 2020.

Coreas-Ventura is charged with capital murder, robbery, abduction, and gang participation in connection with the March 2017 murder of Raymond Wood near Goode.

When asking for an 11-month delay in scheduling their client’s trial, Coreas-Ventura’s attorneys told Updike they needed time to visit El Salvador, where Coreas-Ventura lived as a child and suffered a head injury in a car accident. Attorneys indicated they plan to introduce Coreas-Ventura’s injury at trial to underscore his lack of mental competency.

Doctors previously determined Coreas-Ventura was not competent to stand trial, citing intellectual deficiencies and IQ estimates that were in the range of “intellectual disability.” After hearing from a University of Virginia psychiatrist, who testified Tuesday that Coreas-Ventura had a “basic competency” to participate in his own defense, Updike ruled the case could move forward.

Also during Tuesday’s hearing, attorneys for Coreas-Ventura asked Updike to separate their client’s gang participation charge and try the matter separately from his counts of murder, robbery, and abduction. Defense attorneys argued that the introduction of their client’s participation in the MS-13 gang would be prejudicial and cause jurors to immediately view Coreas-Ventura in an unfavorable light.

Updike denied the defense request, saying the gang participation charge “is an integral part of the Commonwealth’s theory and permeates every part of the case.”

Attorneys indicated a 10-day schedule will be necessary to hear evidence in Coreas-Ventura’s case when his jury trial gets underway next March.

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