FLORIDA (USA): SETH PENALVER ACQUITTED IN 1994 TRIPLE MURDER
December 21, 2012: A Broward County jury acquitted Seth Penalver, 39, white, of all charges.
He will be freed from death row, 13 years after being sentenced to death.
Jurors decided there was not enough evidence to be certain that Penalver was one of the gunmen who carried out the triple homicide that took place on July 27, 1994.
The victims were Casimir "Butch Casey" Sucharski, Sharon Anderson and Marie Rogers.
His first trial ended with a deadlocked jury. At his second trial in 1999, he was convicted and sentenced to death.
In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court (Penalver v. Florida, No. SC00-1602, Feb. 2, 2006) overturned his conviction because the prosecution had introduced improper evidence at his trial.
A co-defendant, Pablo Ibar, was also sentenced to death and remains on death row.
A video from the crime scene helped convict Ibar, but images showing another suspect were inconclusive. The second robber never took off the hat and sunglasses that obscured his identity. Numerous witnesses viewed the video and told investigators the second man was Penalver, but many of them wavered in their testimony and testified only reluctantly. Penalver has always maintained his innocence.
At Penalver's most recent trial, which began 5 months ago, the jury was deadlocked 10-2, and both the prosecution and defense agreed to replace two jurors with alternates who had attended the proceedings. The newly constituted jury began deliberations afresh and found Penalver not guilty of all charges.
Penalver is the 142nd person to be exonerated and freed from death row since 1973, and the 24th such person in Florida, the most of any state. Florida led the country in death sentences in 2012 with 21.
One other person, Damon Thibodeaux in Louisiana, was exonerated in 2012 and released on Sept. 28.
Broward Circuit Judge Thomas Lynch told jurors that this case was the longest he'd ever presided over. It is also, for the foreseeable future, his last criminal case. Penalver, who has been in custody since his arrest in the summer of 1994, was likely to go free as soon as the jail could coordinate with the Florida Department of Corrections to recognize the acquittal. (Sources: Sun Sentinel, Dec. 21, 2012)