A Chesterfield County jury tasked with deciding the guilt or innocence of Joshua Federico — who is charged with shooting his estranged wife, paralyzing her, and killing her live-in boyfriend in an ambush attack last summer — was sent home Wednesday after jurors told the judge they needed a rest and weren’t close to reaching a verdict.
About 5:25 p.m., the 10-woman, two-man panel told Circuit Judge Lynn Brice they could use a break and that they were unable to make a swift decision after deliberating for 2½ hours. Federico is facing eight felony charges, including murder, attempted murder and malicious wounding.
The judge then briefly sent them back into the jury room to decide whether they wanted to continue their deliberations. When the jurors returned, they asked to be allowed to go home and the judge agreed.
Chesterfield prosecutors Scott Miles and Erin Barr rested their case at 9:50 a.m. after calling their last two witnesses in a trial that began Monday.
Their case is centered on the testimony of Federico’s estranged wife, 31-year-old Sarah Federico, who testified at length Monday that Federico, then 44, fatally shot her boyfriend, Lawrence Howell, 38, before shooting her. She said Federico stayed for hours and cleaned up the bloody scene with bleach, and then tried staging a false narrative of the crime before chasing her to her closest neighbor’s home and shooting her again.
She was shot three times. The last round, to her back, paralyzed her for life.
On Tuesday, prosecutors sought to buttress her account by calling Constantine “Dino” Trikoulis, a close friend of the defendant’s, who testified that Federico told him that he had shot his estranged wife after exchanging fire with Howell, who was killed. Federico then moved Howell’s body to his 30-acre farm about 5 miles away, where he dumped the body in a pit on a neighbor’s adjoining property and set it on fire, Trikoulis said Federico admitted.
To further support their case, the prosecution introduced DNA evidence developed from blood samples taken from inside Sarah Federico’s home after the shooting; from a piece of paper discovered inside her GMC Yukon that prosecutors said Federico used to transport Howell’s body; and from a red-stained paper towel found in a pasture near one of Federico’s barns. Forensic experts determined Howell’s blood was on all three items.
The prosecution also introduced a state forensic analysis of genetic material recovered from the steering wheel of the Yukon, which showed that Federico’s DNA was present.
Defense attorneys Paul Gregorio and Barry Montgomery got their turn about 10:15 a.m. Wednesday, and presented their case over the next 35 minutes. The defense contends that Federico did not commit the crime because he wasn’t at his estranged wife’s house when the attack occurred late Aug. 23 and into the early hours of Aug. 24.
In support of Federico’s alibi, attorneys called his 19-year-old son, Hunter, who was living with his dad in the 12300 block of Black Road at the time of the shootings. Hunter Federico testified that he last saw his father about 8 p.m. on Aug. 23, when Federico retired for the evening to his bedroom.
Hunter said that when he went to bed about 10:30 that evening, his father’s door was closed but he could hear the sound of his dad’s television and see its illumination from under the door.
Hunter Federico said his father didn’t leave the room and he didn’t hear any movement inside or outside the house until he got up about 7 the next morning. Under cross-examination, Hunter said he didn’t hear the sound of police outside his father’s house around 6 a.m., yelling through a bullhorn for his father to come out with his hands up.
Hunter said his father wasn’t in the house when he got up but that it wasn’t unusual for him to rise early to work on the farm.
Three other defense witnesses, including two women who formerly boarded their horses with Sarah Federico, testified that Sarah had a reputation for dishonesty, but they didn’t elaborate.
The defense, throughout the trial and in closing arguments, told jurors that Sarah Federico was deceitful and that the account she provided about how the shootings occurred was made up. “You cannot believe her,” Gregorio told jurors.
The attorney also dismissed Trikoulis’ testimony, calling him an admitted liar who changed his story a year after the attack to curry favor with prosecutors. Trikoulis — along with Federico and Federico’s mother and brother — were charged several weeks after the shootings in an alleged conspiracy to kill Sarah Federico, her father and her brother in a murder-for-hire plot.
Miles, in closing for the prosecution, told jurors that Joshua Federico’s guilt had been proved beyond a doubt, and that if they believe Sarah Federico’s testimony, that alone is enough to find Federico guilty. Even if she had died from her injuries, Miles said, the remaining evidence would be strong enough for a conviction.
“Is it a coincidence that [Howell’s] remains were found off Federico’s back pasture?” the prosecutor asked jurors.
Miles said Sarah was courageous on the night she was attacked, and courageous when she rolled herself into the courtroom in a wheelchair to testify.
“It’s not possible that she lied,” Miles told jurors, because that would be contrary to human nature given the circumstances. She testified not to take vengeance on Joshua Federico “to make him suffer,” but to hold accountable the person who attacked her, the prosecutor said.