Arts Desk

Cara Cottle Hearing Suspended Until June

A Fairfax County judge scheduled for June 3 a finding and possible sentencing hearing for Caralee Cottle, the woman accused of murder in the Feb. 15, 2010 death of Dirk Smiler, a well-known member of the area goth scene. Judge Michael F. Devine issued the ruling after a day of hearing evidence, often grisly, that forced Smiler's family and many friends to relive the 37-year-old Annandale resident's death.

On Monday Cottle's attorneys negotiated an "Alford plea," a legal maneuver that allows a defendant to avoid admitting guilt but recognizes the evidence in question would be enough to convict. (City Paper was not at yesterday's hearing; read Tom Jackman's coverage for The Washington Post here.) Today Cottle sat quietly dressed in head-to-toe black as her lead attorney, Peter D. Greenspun, presented nearly three hours of evidence including physical descriptions of how Cottle and Smiler were allegedly positioned at the moment of the shooting, crime scene photographs that showed the "blowback" of Smiler's blood and brain matter, and police interviews of witnesses who saw Cottle run naked and blood-soaked up the stairs from Smiler's basement bedroom. Several of those witnesses were in the courtroom today, along with nearly two dozen members of the area goth scene.

Greenspun, who yesterday pushed to reduce the charges against Cottle to involuntary manslaughter, posited that Smiler was physically capable of pulling the trigger himself citing Smiler's height and armspan in relation to the Mauser 8-millimeter rifle used in the shooting. Devine questioned the suggestion, asking Greenspun if he was trying to prove the death was self-inflicted. Greenspun said he was just describing a physical possibility based on statements by ballistic analysts and medical examiners familiar with the case.

The defense's evidence continued with a series of photos that at first focused on Smiler's home and collection of swords and renaissance artifacts—"I don't really know what goth is," Greenspun remarked—but soon turned to images of Smiler's corpse and of bruises and scratches on Cottle's body.

Cottle's third set of evidence were recorded police interviews of people who heard the shooting and saw Cottle run upstairs, screaming in the immediate aftermath. Bryan Bruner's interview was played first.

"Everything was kind of quiet until we heard the shot," Bruner, Smiler's housemate who earlier the evening of the killing borrowed money from Cottle to buy insulin to treat his diabetes, told the police. "Things were kind of shaking in my head. Cara said, 'Somebody help me.' She didn't say anything specific other than 'Dirk has been shot.' My brain ceased to function normally."

Greenspun asserted that another roommate, Stephan Balázs, had asked Smiler to keep the rifle, a World War II-era antique, unloaded. Balázs' statement to the police retold an argument Smiler and Cottle had had earlier in the evening when she found text messages from another woman on Smiler's phone. "Cara just flat-out busted him in a lie," Balázs said on the tape. He then told his account of the shooting: "You don't think a gun's going off in a house. [Cottle] didn't think the gun was loaded. She said they were fucking around with a gun and obviously there was a bullet in the chamber. Fuck, dude, and I had so much shit going through my head."

Throughout the hearing today Smiler and Cottle were described as having an "open relationship" in which they would, as Balázs said on the police tapes, "bring home a girl to share." The text message that sparked the argument before Smiler's death was said to be from a third partner who Cottle accused Smiler of sleeping with on the side.

"Dirk and Cara enjoyed sex," Chablis Owens, another of Smiler's housemates, said in her police interview. "I think that's what killed him because she came upstairs naked and covered in blood. I never gave much thought to Dirk and Cara arguing. There were no sounds of arguing—quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet, and then BAM!—that's a fucking gunshot!" Owens also described to police Cottle's panicked behavior after Smiler was shot. "She lays on the floor, still covered in brains and blood and just screams for five minutes. She said, 'Help me. Help me. He put the gun up to his head. Something about [Cottle] wouldn't pull the trigger.'"

Of all the tapes played Owens' was most definitive in considering Smiler's death accidental: "To be perfectly honest I think it was a fuck-up or accident because there's no way Cara would do it."

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Mark Sullivan provided a more violent depiction of Cottle, noting her past as a Marine and a sometimes turbulent relationship with Smiler.

"She knew weapons," Sullivan said. The prosecutor continued by suggesting their earlier fight was more than a bit of yelling. The housemates, Sullivan said, had witnessed Cottle punch Smiler in the face after seeing the text message. "Not a slap, a full punch."

The prosecution and Cottle's team quarreled over Smiler's height and handedness, particularly when debating the physical plausibility of a self-inflicted gunshot. Greenspun said Smiler was left-handed and stood 5-feet-10-inches; Sullivan claimed Smiler was right-handed and 5-feet-8-inches, the difference in height, he said, due to Smiler's head expanding from the bullet's entrance.

Photographs introduced by the prosecution were more graphic than those by the defense. Sullivan presented the judge a set of images depicting "wagon wheels" of blood on the walls of Smiler's bedroom and chunks of brain matter projected across the room by the explosive force of the close-range shot. Sullivan argued here that the suicide possibility was ruled out by citing the responding detectives' determination that it would be "physically impossible to shoot yourself and get the same splatter."

Sullivan also read back statements Smiler's roommates gave to investigators last year. He said that Cottle told Bryan Bruner, "Help me, help me. I shot [Smiler] and I'm going to go to jail." The prosecutor also expanded on the nature of Smiler and Cottle's relationship, saying that in addition to being open, it was also quite carnal. Cottle told detectives that Smiler had choked her during sex, Sullivan said. He also argued that Chablis Owens and others would testify in a trial that Cottle "enjoyed pain during sex" and that she told friends that she would say "harder, harder, spank me harder" during intercourse with Smiler.

Devine, the judge, closed by scheduling the June 3 hearing, during which he will issue a finding on Cottle's negotiated plea of involuntary manslaughter. Greenspun's next move is to argue for a suspended imposition of sentence (assuming Devine accepts the plea), which under the ruling of a recent Virginia Supreme Court ruling would allow the judge to suspend a first-time offender like Cottle's case with the incentive that good behavior over a set period of time could lead to an outright dismissal in the future. In Virginia manslaughter carries a penalty of anywhere from probation to 10 years in prison; the commonwealth's non-binding sentencing guidelines suggest up to six months in jail for a first-time offender like Cottle.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin
  • sbraunfeld


  • harlon


  • e

    Hey #1, you're a class act. :(

  • oh look

    Its most likely caras fat sister

  • Pingback: Gothic News » Blog Archive » Cara Cottle Hearing Suspended Until June

  • Pingback: Flip by Martyn Bedford – review | Like Going Back To My Wife

  • Doug T.

    The fact that this woman kills a man & may get off with PROBATION, is a slap in the faces of Dirk's family & friends. The justice system definitely failed in this instance...

  • http://NunyaB Christian

    this whole situation makes me want to go outside and scream " Im mad as hell and im not going to take it anymore" this women so neads to get lots of time in prison or va death penalty..the best that family and friends can ask for ...just saying is all..

    many things still harp in my mind from this event in the past.. She is a ex marine but she didn't know the gun was loaded.. Witness testimony of her saying she shot him.. the whole height thing of late is such bullcwap 2.. self inflicted wound my but.. the whole situation is so messed up.. Plus of course greeeen spunnies past lawyers dealings is still shady.. with other cases.. just saying is all.. if she gets off it would be a disgrace to her family and friends.. even if ya barely knew him he touched your life in good ways.. I would even go to say that even people that didn't like him still found nice coversations with him. Perfect gentleman and he is still so greatly missed..

  • CR

    Didn't know the gun was loaded? As a former Marine, I can tell you gun safety is ground into our heads, so I'm a bit skeptical about not knowing the gun was loaded, or how about the rule "Don't point your weapon at anything you do not intend to shoot" These things are ingrained in Marines, I'd love to jump to her defense but find myself without a leg to stand on.

  • AR

    Just goes to show, if you have money you can get out of anything. If this had happened to someone who's family didn't have connection they would be doing hard time. That crazy b**** is a drug addict and a violent person. How do I know that? I knew her previous boyfriend. They had a ultra violent fight that led to him leaving her and moving out of state.

  • Pingback: links for 2011-03-02 « Clint's blog

  • Pingback: links for 2011-03-02 « Clint’s Test Blog

  • AC

    "I can tell you this. This was not a murder or a suicide. It was an unpleasant, heat-of-the-moment fight compounded with alcohol," said Skot Braunfeld, a longtime friend of Smiler, at the time of the shooting.

  • sandra benitez

    A person cannot shot another and expect to be unpunished. Yet a drug offender can do more time. Our system is flawed at best.

  • C M

    Is Virginia trying to promote murder? This is absurd!

    Cara took someone really special to us, someone with a childhood, a life, experiences, friends, family, memories, hopes, dreams and a fiery passion for life that in my opinion was generally dedicated to making sure others were happy. It is sickening that the court doesn't seem to value that.
    CR i agree. You don't point a gun at someone you don't intend to shoot. A former Marine would know that.

  • Sean Cox

    What is the problem. Cottle ADMITTED to murder, yet the Virginia Legal system says its ok?

    Here are the facts, plain and true no matter how you try and slice it.

    Nathan is gone, Cottle shot him, Virginia just told EVERYONE in the nation its ok to go murder another living being. WAY TO GO!!!!!!! NOT.

    Murder is murder pure and simple. Just because ms cottle was able to go ahead and lie, lie, and lie more, just to get out of going to jail, and to get out of prison time, is a sad sad sad state. Whats worse, the humans that HELPED her. you all should be ASHAMED of yourselves for allowing a cold hear-ted murdering B**** to go free. Well I do have news, GOD WILL JUDGE HER, only he truly knows what happened. Since The state of Virginia is completely inept at doing the slightest thing right LEGALLY, trust and know god will correct this mistake.

  • CGallatin

    The simple fact that killing another person, be it a premeditated act, act of passion, or careless and irresponsible accident, can carry less of a sentence than possession of marijuana is a glaring reminder that our system has always, and likely always will fail the people. I can only hope that the judge has the wisdom to impose a maximum sentence.

  • sultana

    So a former Marine pulled the trigger on a gun, and was somehow surprised at the splatter of blood and brains that followed?

    I was never in the Marines, but that seems a little inconsistent with what a soldier should expect the outcome of pulling a trigger should be.

    The victim's flamboyant style or the victim & the murderer's sex life are irrelevant to the fact that Marines know that bullets fire out of guns when you pull the trigger, so she has no excuse for saying that she didn't know it was going to happen. You always assume that a gun is loaded. Basic gun safety that Cottle would have known.

    I can live with her getting the maximum 10 years... I think she should get more, but that is the best we can expect since her plea was accepted.

  • Moria Brown-Gonzales

    This is so wrong, you know if she'd been caught with drugs she'd already be doing time. This will make the judicial system in VA the laughing stock of the nation. I got a felony and 2 years probation in 1997 for residue in a straw. She should spend the rest of her life in jail. Truly disgusted about this and there is no way to describe the loss of Dirk and what he meant to all of us.

  • Seriously?

    I can't believe that casual drug users are put in jail until trial/plea deal and kept in jail until sentencing but a MURDERER is allowed to go free. What's worse, under the Hernandez decision, if she's a good little girl and doesn't kill anyone else they will let her walk free. This is not justice and the Hernandez Decision being used for VIOLENT crime is a miscarriage of justice.

  • Aspen

    If you have something to add about the case involving Dirk please write this address:

    Judge Michael F. Devine
    C/O Fairfax Circuit Court
    Fairfax County Courthouse
    ...Room #501
    4110 Chain Bridge Road
    Fairfax, VA 22030

  • Aspen

    I have little to say other than this. We still have a hope as long as we have voices we can use. Write to this Judge. Tell him justice can still be done and it is in his hands. Ask for what you think is fair. We are the voice of the people. Our friend was Yesterday's Son we are Tomorrow's Children. Let our voices resound and grow to the full feldged potential of human capability. Do not bother yourseves with petty remarks. Strength lies in what we do not what we say.

  • Gypsy

    We live in a dark world. When a person forcefully takes away what little light we still have in it, it is a crime against us all. I loath how the legal system is full of loop holes and maneuvering that in intent are there to help the innocent. More often though, it is used by the guilty to escape the ramifications of their actions. We shall never forget the light he brought into our lives and we should do whatever we can to show others that same radiance.

  • Samantha

    I agree with you Gypsy. This woman knew what she was doing as soon as she picked up a gun and pointed it at a life. Are you not taught in the marines, do not point a weapon at a target you do not intend to destroy, loaded or not?? To have her get only 6 months probation is a slap in the face not only to Dirk, his friends, and his family, but to the integrity of this country as well. We truly are at the end of our days if murder no longer holds severity enough for punishment.

  • sean

    I've written the apropriate people my thoughts personally, and I shall leave them here as well.

    I knew Dirk for 15 years, love him as a brother. We are not the ones who judge. The Lord our God is. While ms cottle might have been able to FOOL a judge, and a jury, she can not lie to god, God see's all. I know my brother is up there with him and I take solice and massive comfort in knowing this.

    before anyone says or does something dumb which Dirk would not have wanted, please take my words as words of comfort.....

    God will judge her, just because she escaped our wrath, she wont escape god Judgement. Karma, she will get hers. My prayers, love and sympathy to Dirks biological family, as well as his extended family and friends. Lead your lives live to the fullest, this way in the end when your time eventually comes, you will have stories to tell when you meet again.

    God Bless,


  • Heather

    99% of you have never met Cara Cottle in your whole life, and do not have a right to comment on anything. Dirk was not an angel and there is not a single person on the face of this planet that would say he was, or could with a straight face. Cara is a very broken, lonely soul and Dirk preyed on her weaknesses. Did he deserve to die? No. Is Cara a murderer? NO! She is an immature, confused individual who let her priorities get severely out of line. How many hundreds of people are killed every day out of rage and spite? This is not one of those cases.

  • Heather

    @Samantha and Gypsy... if you've read anything about this case, you would not have made an ignorant statement like the one you just made. Cara is less than 5 feet tall with proportional armspan. How on earth do you think it is possible for a girl of her size to pull the trigger of a bolt action rifle that was put in between her and Dirk, while half of her body was hanging off the side of the bed? I know Cara very well, and there are a lot of things that she would do and has done - especially while she is intoxicated, but taking another person's life, especially a person that she loved (however messed up the relationship may have been). Dirk was physically and emotionally abusive toward her. I had witnessed it with my own eyes on multiple accounts, and on several occasions Cara was the only force that stood in between Dirk and his desire to have sex with me - yes, I am saying what you think I am saying - while we were all very intoxicated, I was always very stern on the fact that I would never engage in any kind of sexual relations with him, if only for the fact that he was almost 25 years my senior, but on a few occasions "no" did not resonate with me and he attempted to rape me. A lengthy list of other girls have attested to similar circumstances.

  • Truth

    Heather, Dirk was 37, you said "he was 25 years my senior"- that would make you 12! If you are going to lie, then get your lies straight.
    And if you know Cara and you know that she LOVED Dirk, then stop posting crap about him, you are disrespecting both of them.

  • Heather

    @ "TRUTH", if I HAD lied, then yes, I would be needing to get my lies straight. I did not say he was 25 years my senior, I said he was ALMOST 25 years my senior - it is obvious that you need to learn how to read things carefully before jumping the gun. And how would you know if I was or was not 12-years-old when Dirk and I met? Well, I wasn't, and I won't say my exact age but I will say you were only a couple years off as I was still a minor at the time of our first meeting. I'm not sure how you think I'm disrespecting either of them, but your opinion is your opinion and you are entitled to have it.

  • Katy

    anyone know what happened with Cara Cottle's sentencing today?

  • Jessykah

    7 years, 3.5 in jail and 10 yrs probation