Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas declared a mistrial in the Joel G. Lebron rape and murder case Thursday, saying he had no choice but to do so.
Lebron, 33, was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, robbery and kidnapping in an attack on a Miami teen and attempted murder of her boyfriend in April 2002.
"Ten and a half years have passed, we finally get to this point, and this court is forced, forced to grant the motion for a mistrial because a veteran detective took the witness stand and made a statement that is not relevant and is, in this court's opinion, highly prejudicial to Mr. Lebron's ability to get a fair trial," Thomas said.
The issue Thursday arose from an inadvertent comment made by Miami Beach Police Det. Larry Marrero. He was describing how he and some other detectives arrested the men involved in the murder, rape, and kidnapping of Ana Maria Angel and the assault and kidnapping of her boyfriend Nelson Portobanco. The police arrived at an apartment in Orlando, where they found a woman named Evelyn Roman.
A prosecutor asked, "Who is Evelyn Roman?"
Marrero testified, "She is the sister of the defendant and the mother of a previous defendant who's convicted now."
A defense attorney immediately objected, the judge sustained the objection, and he told the jury to disregard the last response.
But the judge did not stop the proceedings, and Marrero went on to complete his testimony, describing in detail what Lebron allegedly told him and the other detectives in his confession.
"He told me he shot her and he stabbed him, so he was the most culpable," Marrero testified.
Two suspects in the case have already been convicted of first-degree murder.
Defense attorney Jeff Fink said later, "To tell the jury that a co-defendant has already been convicted is essentially to tell them that another jury has already decided these crimes were committed – the judge had no choice."
After the mistrial was declared, prosecutor Reid Rubin said, "Our primary interest is that all parties get a fair trial, and that's the only comment I can make."
In court on Thursday Angel's mother wept, listening to the horrific details of the gang rape endured by her daughter, as well as the description of her execution. With the mistrial, she will have to go through that again in a new trial, which begins next Wednesday with jury selection.