by Betty Nelander
Clemente Aguirre-Jarquin of Altamante Springs, Florida, was recently exonerated and freed after spending 14 years in prison, including 10 on death row, for double murder.
“An innocent man was almost executed for a crime he did not commit,” said Josh Dubin, one of the lawyers representing Aguirre-Jarquin.
The undocumented immigrant was just 24 when he was arrested in 2004 for fatally stabbing neighbors Cheryl Williams and her mother, Carol Bareis, in Seminole County, Florida. Two years later, he was sentenced to die.
Eventually, the charges were dropped based in part on DNA evidence and confessions that implicated someone else. So, after more a decade on death row, the man who had been declaring his innocence all along was freed on November 5, 2018, after the Florida Supreme Court vacated his capital conviction and a second trial against him was halted.
Prosecutors had claimed that Aguirre-Jarquin sneaked into his next-door neighbors’ Altamonte Springs home and stabbed Bareis twice and Williams 129 times with a kitchen knife before returning to his own home. Aguirre-Jarquin, however, said he discovered Williams’ body and attempted to revive her. He said he was in the trailer looking for a beer after a night of drinking and picked up a bloody knife at the scene because he thought the real killer might be nearby.
He dropped the knife outside and left behind bloody shoe prints. Panicked, he did not report the deaths for fear of deportation back to Honduras.
Helping him on appeal were the nonprofit Innocence Project and new lawyers, who secured new DNA samples from bloodstains and other evidence. Prosecutors dropped all charges against him just as jury selection had begun in his second trial, and pretrial testimony cast serious doubt on the alibi of the victims’ daughter and granddaughter, Samantha Williams, “whose blood was found in multiple locations at the scene, and who explicitly confessed to the crime on several occasions to multiple people,” the Innocence Project reports.
“In the wake of the retrial, retired Seminole County Judge O.H. Eaton—the judge who originally sentenced Aguirre-Jarquin to death—has since come forward and voiced his opposition to the retrial, citing the new evidence that has surfaced since the original conviction,” the Innocence Project reports.
“The evidence I heard during the trial [in 2006] substantiated the verdict,” Eaton told Scott Maxwell, an Orlando Sentinel columnist. “The evidence I’ve heard now does not.”
The judge even described Aguirre-Jarquin’s case as the “poster child for why the death penalty is flawed,” said Maxwell.
Aguirre-Jarquin’s attorneys have said they will seek asylum for their client, who faces an immigration hold. As a young man, he left Honduras because of deadly gang violence.
Samantha Williams has not been charged with a crime.
Sources: orlandosentinel.com, clickorlando.com, cbsnews.com, innocenceproject.org
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