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State Plans to seek Death Penalty in Diana Alvarez Case

jorge guerrero torres

Jorge Guerrero Torres

The state has announced its intention to seek the death penalty against Jorge Guerrero Torres, who was indicted about a week or so ago for first degree murder in the kidnapping death of nine-year-old Diana Alvarez. Authorities located Guerrero’s phone with incriminating pornographic pictures involving the girl. He has been convicted in Federal court and sentenced to 60 years for child pornography. When he was in jail, he allegedly made incriminating statements that he killed Alvarez and hid her body, leading to the murder charges he now faces. The notice is the next step, after the grand jury indictment for first degree murder, to seek the death penalty, which has been reinstated in Florida.

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Big Day for Criminal News in Southwest Florida

jorge guerrero torres

Jorge Guerrero-Torres

Yesterday the State Attorney’s Office and LCSO held a major press conference to announce not one, but two, grand jury indictments for first-degree murder. The first was in the high-profile disappearance of Diana Alvarez. Jorge Guerrero-Torres has been charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping, and lewd and lascivious molestation: the first degree murder charge could be subject to the death penalty, if the State decides to seek it. Guerrero is already under a federal sentence for possession of child pornography related to the case: there was a challenge to the admission of  evidence from his cell phone, but the court permitted it in the federal case, which is a good indicator in the state case. Further, NBC-2’s Jaclyn Bevis reported in December that Guerrero may have made a jailhouse confession to killing the girl and hiding her body.

The other indictment was for a much more recent case, but not the Lois Riess case… yet. The other case was in the robbery-murder of a taxi driver in Lehigh Acres just last month. Three co-defendants have been charged, and two of them are teenagers… one only 13 years old. Not many details have been released, but the State indicated today they sought the indictment due to the “horrendous nature of the crime“. 20-year-old Ricky Lagonde allegedly had a gun and threatened the victim, but the teenagers then shot him.

The other news of the day was that a press conference was held by “ARM”, the Animal Recovery Mission. ARM has been pushing for charges to be brought for some Lee County farms they allege were operating as illegal slaughterhouses and illegally selling horse meat. ARM and their investigators ran their own undercover operations, and presented videos and other evidence first to LCSO and later to the State Attorney’s office, who declined to file charges. Earlier press conferences from ARM have lead to protests against animal cruelty in Lee County. One of the concerns that the State has cited is the difficulty in introducing surreptitiously obtained videos as evidence in court, as our local State Attorney’s office learned the hard way. ARM brought their legal adviser to the session today, and he argued that since the videos were taken at a business with many people around, there was not an expectation of privacy, and that the videos would therefore be admissible. And even if the videos didn’t come in, the ARM witnesses would be available to testify. There’s a lot more to the issue, but suffice it to say, tensions are high on both sides.

Now, a cynic might point out that it was very convenient for the politicians who might be up for election this year that the big indictment announcements came on the same day as the controversial press conference. A cynic might wonder why, after almost two years, and months after the arrest and confession of Jorge Guerrero-Torres, the state obtained an indictment right before the ARMs media push: a push that has been seized on by the outsider running for State Attorney against the Chief Assistant ASA that presented the announcement today. The news of the day ended up being the new charges, and not the activists asking why the State had not moved on the ARM allegations, though it still made some news. I’m not that cynic, and I know that there are legitimate legal reasons that make it very difficult for the State to prosecute the ARM cases. That cynic might also point out that if it had been intentional timing, it was a brilliant bit of political maneuvering to control the biggest stories in the media on what was shaping up to be a bad day for people who have elections coming up.

 

A Look at the Ramifications of Florida’s Death Penalty Issues

The procedure for Florida’s Death Penalty was found to be unconstitutional, despite efforts to rework it, until March of last year, when a procedure that meets Constitutional muster was approved and signed into law. But what to do with the cases that had been sentenced under the old procedure. Florida’s Supreme Court ended up splitting the baby, basing their decision on when the US Supreme Court issued their controlling decision in Ring v. Arizona back in 2002. The Florida Court decided that the rule would be applied retroactively to cases decided after the Ring decision, but that individuals sentenced before then are out of luck: even though the Court had already decided the procedure used to sentence them was unconstitutional.

The decision is based on the rule that decisions based on procedure will not be retroactive. In the last several weeks, the Court has been busy issuing ruling after ruling that declines to apply the rule announced in the Hurst case to pre-2002 convictions. This column from the Tampa Bay Times takes a look at the spate of opinions that have recently been released, and the sometimes incongruous results. It’s definitely worth a read.

Via: Tampabay.com

Board Certified Criminal Trial Law Defense Attorney Spencer Cordell

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Donald Trump does not Respect the Judicial System

Screenshot_20171101-135912Donald Trump, currently President of the United States, made comments today that make clear he does not respect our constitutionally based justice system. Discussing the process for prosecuting the New York City terrorist, Trump stated at a cabinet meeting, “We need quick justice and we need strong justice — much quicker and much stronger than we have right now. Because what we have right now is a joke and it’s a laughing stock. And no wonder so much of this stuff takes place.” Fox News, in their online story about the piece, edited the quote to make it sound like he was talking about the immigration system. This quote was not about immigration. This line was about the United States criminal justice system, which Trump has insulted.

This should come as no surprise, as his imperiousness as president has frequently stepped on Constitutional protections. Famously, Trump took out full page ads in NY City papers in 1989 during the prosecution of the “Central Park Five”: 5 young men who were wrongly accused of a brutal beating and rape of a jogger in Central Park. “Muggers and murderers,” he wrote, “should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.” “Though he didn’t refer to the teenagers by name, it was clear to anyone in the city that he was referring to them,” said the New York Times. The botched prosecution led to the wrong men being locked up for years, and the actual criminal, serial rapist Matias Reyes, continued to roam the streets attacking women. Even after DNA proved their innocence, and the exonerations are now an exemplar of poor police procedures and wrongful prosecution: a fact the Trump still has not acknowledged. “Quick”, by necessity, has to take a back seat to the more important principle of “justice”.

It’s ironic that he would call the criminal justice system a laughingstock the same week his former campaign chair and other advisers had charges brought against them in Federal court. They are probably happy to be out on bond as their cases are pending, and glad to avail all possible defenses under the Constitution. It’s easy to point at an evil person like the man who drove into a crowd of innocent bikers in New York… but, the Constitution protects us all. The justice system is not one size fits all, and most of the Constitutional protections are to prevent Government overreach, they are to prevent the violations of those rightly and wrongly accused. Our justice system has developed over that last two centuries as a model replicated around the world.

We all want to see justice brought to the New York City terrorist, and all those who would commit crimes against our people. But the system is not a joke. As an attorney, both prosecutor and defense attorney, respect for the Constitution and respect for our individual rights are the starting point for justice, and it is disappointing, albeit not surprising, for Donald Trump to disparage that. This is not a partisan issue… like many Republicans, I believe in our Constitution and our justice system. It’s flawed, and those of us who work in it are always working to better it, but it is not a joke. And I hope that the leaders in this country, on both sides of the aisle, stand up to speak up for it.

-UPDATE-

The White House later tried to walk back Trump’s comments about the justice system. At a briefing later in the day, spokesperson Sarah Sanders denied that Trump said our justice system was a laughingstock, and tried to claim that he was saying the process has people calling us a joke. Video LINK. But that’s not what he said… very clearly he was the one calling it a joke. Here’s his full quote:

“They’ll go through court for years,” he said. “And at the end, they’ll be — who knows what happens. We need quick justice, and we need strong justice, much quicker and much stronger than we have right now. Because what we have right now is a joke, and it’s a laughingstock. And no wonder so much of this stuff takes place.”

The fact that they are trying to reframe the president’s comments shows that they know they are inappropriate. The fact that the White House spokesperson is straight up lying to us about what the president said is embarrassing. I’ll leave it to you to decide who is the joke, here. Sadly, it’s no laughing matter.

George Papadapolous Pleads Guilty

Oh no- George, say it isn’t so!

george papadapalous

Also, former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was an unregistered foreign agent who, along with associate Rick Gates, laundered millions and millions of dollars through foreign accounts to avoid paying taxes. Real life Papadapolous has apparently cooperated with authorities leading to their indictment.

O.J. Granted Parole

oj-simpson-doc-photo

OJ Simpson

O.J. Simpson was granted parole at his Nevada DOC hearing yesterday. He has to stay in custody until October, and will continue to be supervised when he’s released. Regular readers of this blog were not surprised at the result, as I’ve stated for months that he was likely to be granted parole, based on his past track record. The next big question is where he’s going to go, with some friends speculating he may move here to Southwest Florida. He was a Florida resident for years prior to being incarcerated, as Florida provides homestead protection so it’s difficult to take someone’s house away, for instance when they have a large civil judgment against them, as O.J. does for the civil suit finding him responsible for the deaths of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman.