After almost two years, the identity of the man who shot and killed young Falls Church native Jack Stephen “Steve” Cornejo was finally extracted from reluctant Fairfax County police last month, and a “wrongful death” civil suit against the man will go trial in a Fairfax court Monday. Cornejo was killed by a single gunshot at close range during an altercation in the early hours of Saturday, June 25, 2005, in the Fair Oaks section of Fairfax County.
The case of the killing of Cornejo, 22 at the time of his death and the popular co-captain of George Mason High School’s 2000 state championship soccer team, has been fraught with stonewalling by county officials and frustration by the Cornejo family.
No charges were ever filed against the killer, now identified as Brandon Paul Gotwalt, and when deposed by Cornejo family attorneys last month, “he said he could not tell us his profession,” according to family member Corina Menjivar. It fuels suspicion held among many that Gotwalt had a relationship to the police or government and that he was being protected.
However, such questions should come to light during next week’s trial. The Cornejo family says it has evidence that Gotwalt lied to police at first about his involvement in the killing while cutting up the shirt he wore at the time of the shooting and flushed it down a toilet along with the spent cartridge for the bullet that killed Cornejo. If true, why that did not lead to an arrest at least on charges of obstruction of justice has legal experts further puzzled.
According to the coroner’s report of Cornejo’s death, he was killed by a single gunshot wound that entered his upper back at very close range. It occurred while a party was winding down outside an apartment and reportedly witnesses were present.
Gun experts have commented that the assailant had to have held down Cornejo with one arm, extracted a concealed weapon with the other, and turned off the safety on the gun, all at the same time he was wrestling with Cornejo. That would imply strongly the man had a keen knowledge of the use of the firearm, they have noted.
Cornejo grew up in Falls Church, attending Falls Church City Public Schools where he was well-liked by teachers and classmates, alike. That was attested to by being named co-captain of the soccer team in his senior year.
The team won the Class A state championship only weeks before Cornejo graduated from George Mason High School in 2000.
Legal experts have suggested to the News-Press that if the civil suit is successful next week, Fairfax County, including Commonwealth attorney Robert F. Horan, could be liable for further legal action.