Monday, October 15, 2007

Judge: No new trial for death-row inmate

Rene Stutzman

Sentinel Staff Writer

5:46 PM EDT, October 15, 2007

A judge late this afternoon ruled that death-row inmate Clemente Javier "Shorty" Aguirre should not get a new trial, even though a fingerprint expert botched her analysis and falsely told jurors his print was on the murder weapon.

Aguirre, 27, was convicted by a Seminole County Jury last year of murdering two neighbors - a wheelchair-bound 68-year-old woman and her adult daughter.

Then-Seminole County fingerprint expert Donna Birks told jurors that she identified Aguirre's palm print on a bloody chef's knife found outside the victims' home.

But that turned out to be false. Authorities reviewed more than 300 sheriff's office fingerprint cases after a co-worker complained about Birks. They found 10 bad calls by sheriff's office print experts, eight by Birks.

The Aguirre case is the one with the highest profile.

Three weeks ago Aguirre returned to the Seminole Criminal Justice Center from death row to ask Circuit Judge O.H. Eaton Jr. for a new trial.

Today, the judge said no.

In his 13-page order, the judge wrote that the jury would have convicted Aguirre and recommended the death penalty even if they'd never heard about the bloody print.

At his trial, Aguirre testified that he went into the house after the victims inside were already dead, saw the knife, picked it up and carried it outside.

The judge pointed out that DNA and blood evidence at the scene linked only one credible suspect to the scene – Aguirre.

Carol Bareis, 68, and her daughter, Cheryl A. Williams, 47, were found slain in their home near Altamonte Springs June 17, 2004.

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