The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the convictions of a man in the murders of two people on a St. Petersburg houseboat but tossed out his death sentences and ordered new sentencing proceedings.
Justices unanimously rejected an appeal of the first-degree murder convictions of Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria in the stabbing deaths of Germana Morin and John Travlos in April 2013.
Figueroa-Sanabria worked as a handyman for the victims and was accused of stealing jewelry while committing the murder. Figueroa-Sanabria was ultimately sentenced to death for the slayings, but the Supreme Court on Thursday found flaws related to the defendant representing himself during what is known as the penalty phase of the trial.
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The issue involved Figueroa-Sanabria not wanting to present “mitigation” evidence, which can include such things as details about defendants’ backgrounds that are intended to prevent death sentences.
Thursday’s ruling said a circuit judge informed Figueroa-Sanabria that mitigation evidence would be presented if he was represented by an attorney.
Figueroa-Sanabria went on to defend himself for most of the penalty phase. But the Supreme Court said the judge had erred and that Figueroa-Sanabria deserved another sentencing proceeding.
The ruling, written by Justice John Couriel, said it was “unconstitutional for the trial court to misinform FigueroaSanabria as to the nature of his rights and put him to the specific choice he faced: have a lawyer present mitigation, or go it alone.”
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