Trials Delayed in Sterling Murder Case

The cases of Gavin Collins and Joshua Hunter, the two men charged with the July 2020 murder of a Winchester man, have been continued to later this year.

Collins, 22, and Hunter, 23, are charged with first degree murder, robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, and two counts of using a firearm while in the commission of a felony in the July 8 shooting death of Jose I. Escobar Menendez. They face separate jury trials in Circuit Court. The first is set for October this year.

According to witness testimony during a Nov. 16 preliminary hearing, Menendez traveled from Winchester to Sterling early that morning to meet up with a friend he had recently met. The Sheriff’s Office’s Digital Forensics Unit found more than 60 text messages on Menendez’s phone between he and Collins that morning, and found that some of those texts were sent from an IP address at the Sheetz off Windmill Parc Drive, also where surveillance video showed Hunter pumping gas into his black Dodge Charger.

Detectives allege that Collins and Hunter arrived at the Village at Potomac Falls apartment complex in Hunter’s Charger at about 1:55 a.m., at which point an area resident testified she heard at least two people start talking, then yelling before she heard a “pop.” At about 3:10 a.m., another resident noticed Menendez’s body lying in the street along Emerald Point Terrace near the intersection with Winding Road with blood surrounding it.

Detectives later found a single bullet casing fired from a .45-caliber handgun at the scene—the same type of shell casing they found attached to a chain in Hunter’s car.

Days after the shooting, Collins and Hunter were arrested and charged with the felonies, for which a grand jury in December indicted Collins and Hunter.

Hunter’s trial was originally scheduled for March 15-26. At prosecutors’ request, it has been continued to Oct. 4-22, with a status hearing set for Sept. 1.

Collins’ trial was set for April 6-15 but has been delayed at prosecutors’ request, with a new date yet to be set. Collins is scheduled to appear in Circuit Court for a status hearing June 24.

Prosecutors requested to continue the trials because, according to a Feb. 16 motion, a material witness is undergoing a high-risk pregnancy for which she is required to remain in bed rest through April 15.

The motion to continue states that without the witness’ testimony “the Commonwealth’s proof of their case-in-chief against Joshua Hunter is severely weakened.”

Prosecutors in February also requested the court join the cases into one trial because separate trials would be “unduly burdensome and wasteful.”

Although Collins’ attorney stated in his response to that motion that he would leave the decision to join the trials up to the court, he noted that joining the cases would result in a shift in his legal strategy to blame Hunter for the murder.

Prosecutors subsequently withdrew that request.

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