In recent days, a story has broken in the local news regarding allegations that a Miami man set his girlfriend on fire. The girlfriend later died at the hospital. The woman's boyfriend was the suspect, whose whereabouts were unknown.
Yesterday, Miami-Dade Police arrested the boyfriend on charges of first degree murder, battery on a person 65 years or older, and burglary with an assault or battery.
The allegations are that the boyfriend, in the midst of a violent argument with his girlfriend, doused her with gasoline and set her on fire. He then fled the scene. The girlfriend was taken to the hospital but later died due to her injuries.
The suspect has a long criminal history. My investigation reveals that he was released from state prison on May 1, 2010, after serving a 24-month sentence for grand theft of a vehicle and fleeing and eluding.
Furthermore, he was sentenced as a habitual offender (HO) on those charges, which means not only will he be an HO on these present charges, but he will face mandatory life in prison as a prison releasee reoffender (PRRP).
The accused's prior record also includes robbery and burglary convictions.
Florida's career criminal statutes provides for harsh mandatory sentencing for repeat offenders. In this case, it would not surprise me if the State Attorney seeks the death penalty due to the "heinous, atrocious, and cruel" method of death, which under Florida law is a sufficient aggravator. Additionally, his prior felony record will be used as justification for seeking the death penalty.
Depending on the strength of the evidence, a good criminal defense attorney may want to begin plea discussions early in the hopes that the accused could accept a prison term rather than face death by lethal injection.
If plea negotiations are not an option, a trial by jury will be inevitable. At trial, the State must prove all of the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. If the case is a death penalty case, there will be two phases of the trial: one will be the guilt phase, where a jury decides whether the accused is guilty or not guilty of the charges. If found guilty of the capital offense (murder), then the State and defense will proceed to the penalty phase, where the State will present evidence to the jury to show that the accused should be executed. The defense will present mitigating evidence to show why the accused should be spared and serve life in prison instead.
Representing clients designated as "career criminals" is difficult because the mandatory sentences required under these statutes can hinder plea negotiations. In my experience, a lot of these "career criminal" cases go to trial.
As a prosecutor and now as a criminal defense attorney, I have handled cases in which clients have been designated as "career criminals."
If you or a loved one are facing serious felony charges, contact me today. I represent clients in criminal matters in Miami-Dade and Broward.