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Jupiter man found not guilty in retrial for manslaughter

Sometimes justice is delayed. But thanks to some tenacious defense lawyers, in the end justice was not denied to a 25-year-old Jupiter, Florida man who was recently released from prison after serving six years of a 25-year sentence for manslaughter and burglary with battery. The man's defense team was successful in getting his convictions reversed on appeal, and getting him a retrial. At the retrial, which lasted two weeks in a Palm Beach County courtroom, the jury deliberated for only two hours before finding him not guilty.

The case arose out of the death of an 18-year-old man in 2007. The defendant and the victim had been involved in a fight outside the defendant's home. The victim was later found in his pickup truck with a steel rod driven through his head. But no witnesses ever saw the defendant with a rod, and no DNA or fingerprints of the defendant were ever found on the rod.

Despite the lack of evidence, the defendant faced a second-degree murder charge. In 2009, a jury found him guilty of two felony charges: manslaughter and burglary with battery - for punching the victim as he sat in his truck. But those convictions were overturned on appeal, after defense lawyers successfully argued the judge should have granted a mistrial on two occasions.

At the new trial, the defendant testified that he acted in self-defense when he punched the victim. The victim had a violent history, and had shown up at the house spoiling for a fight. When the defendant approached his pickup to ask him to leave, the victim pulled a gun on him. The defendant punched the victim to keep him from shooting him. The victim later lost control of his truck and was found with the steel rod through his head.

This case highlights an important rule in criminal cases: the defendant does not need to prove his innocence. It is the prosecution that has the burden of proving guilt, and it must do so beyond a reasonable doubt. Here, the cause of the victim's death remains a mystery. But it is better that a crime go unsolved than that an innocent person be wrongly convicted.

Source: Palm Beach Post, "Jury acquits Jupiter man accused in 2007 death of impaled teen," Daphne Duret, Sept. 4, 2013

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