A Virginia man accused of fatally stabbing and then burning the body of a woman who was staying in his ex-girlfriend’s apartment was found guilty of murder and arson on Thursday.
Richard Montano, 48, killed 40-year-old Silvia “Kelly” Vaca Abacay in August 2022, the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement to HuffPost. Abacay had been staying in the apartment of Montano’s ex-girlfriend Fatima Via Rojas in Falls Church, Virginia.
According to The Washington Post, Montano and Via Rojas were in an abusive relationship for eight years before she broke up with him days before the murder. During Montano’s trial, Via Rojas testified that he had physically assaulted her in the past.
“Every time I would break up with him, he would always look for me,” Via Rojas told the jury, according to the Post. “He would always find me, buying me flowers and taking me to dinner. He would always convince me to go back to him.”
Via Rojas said that Montano kept showing up at her apartment after their 2022 breakup, even though she blocked his number, and said police advised her to send him one more message to leave her alone, the Post reported.
Neighbors’ Ring doorbell camera footage shown at trial revealed that Montano had entered his ex-girlfriend’s apartment several times in the previous months without her knowledge, according to prosecutors.
Montano’s defense attorney, meanwhile, argued that prosecutors hadn’t proven the man in the video was Montano or that he killed Vaca Abacay, according to the Post.
Prosecutors said Montano entered the apartment that day to kill his ex-girlfriend but found Vaca Abacay and mistakenly killed her instead. In closing arguments, prosecutors said Montano killed the wrong woman and then tried to cover up the crime with a fire, NBC Washington reported.
“The body was so burned that the medical examiner wasn’t even able to … accurately count how many wounds Sylvia had. That’s the level of violence we saw in this case,” prosecutor Steve Descano said, WUSA9 reported.
According to the outlet, neighbors called 911 shortly after they heard screaming and banging coming from the apartment. Prosecutors said investigators found Vaca Abacay’s burned body packed with clothes around it to accelerate the blaze, according to the Post.
“He used her own clothing to burn her,” one prosecutor said.
In a GoFundMe fundraiser organized by close friends after her death, Vaca Abacay was described as a “devoted mother and loving wife.”
“Kelly was friendly and full of joy, and always there to help others. She was loved by so many, and will be deeply missed,” the fundraising page stated. “Her family and friends are heartbroken at their loss.”
Montano will be sentenced on Jan. 19, 2024, and faces up to life in prison.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.