Monday, March 16, 2009

Fort Pierce man gets life in prison for 2003 strangulation

By Eric Pfahler

Originally published 05:20 p.m., March 16, 2009
Updated 05:25 p.m., March 16, 2009

The sister of a woman murdered in 2003 said she wanted closure during the sentencing of a Fort Pierce man who was given life in prison Monday.

“I miss her phone calls, her knock on the door on birthdays or holidays or any day she wanted,” Yajahra Garcia read from a prepared statement.

Garcia’s sister Lourdes Cavazos-Blandin, also known as Lulu, was found dead in a wooded lot outside of Fort Pierce on May 24, 2003.

Circuit Judge Dan Vaughn on Monday sentenced Eddie Junior Bigham, 51, to life in prison without the possibility of parole, more than eight months after the Florida Supreme Court voted 6-1 to reverse his first-degree murder conviction and death sentence. Instead, Bigham received a second-degree murder conviction in the strangulation death of Cavazos-Blandin.

Chief Assistant Public Defender Mark Harllee said the sentence was not unexpected, but he planned to file an appeal.

Garcia said she hoped the sentencing would bring finality to the matter.

“The sudden and unexpected murder of my sister Lulu was devastating for me and my family,” a tearful Garcia said. “She was more like a mother to me. She raised me to be the person that I am today.”

Bigham said he was innocent of the crime and showed no emotion throughout the proceedings.

“I am not guilty of this homicide,” Bigham said. “My heart still goes out to the family and stuff, but I am innocent.”

Investigators determined Cavazos-Blandin and Bigham had consensual sex before her death, and Bigham had testified that Cavazos-Blandin was awake and alert when he left the wooded lot after 1 a.m. A medical examiner, however, found signs of strangulation that proved she likely died during or shortly after the pair had sex.

In January 2005, a jury unanimously recommended the death penalty for Bigham, who had previously been convicted of the 1988 murder of a 5-month old baby. He served 14 years in prison in Broward County for that crime and was released less than a month before Cavazos-Blandin’s death. Assistant State Attorney Lynn Park came out of retirement to handle the case.

The Supreme Court later ruled there was insufficient evidence to charge Bigham with first-degree murder.

“It went as expected, really,” Park said. “The part that didn’t go as planned was the Supreme Court sending it back as second-degree (murder), which I disagree with, but that’s what we had to do today.”

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