Mario Careaga's Guilty Verdict Upheld in Miami Heat Dancer's Death

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The judge on Thursday upheld Mario Careaga's guilty verdict. (Published Friday, Mar 28, 2014)

    The South Florida man who killed a Miami Heat dancer will now face prison time after a judge on Thursday upheld his guilty verdict.

    A jury found Mario Careaga guilty on Wednesday of DUI manslaughter in the 2010 death of Miami Heat dancer Nancy Ruiz-Lopez. But he was released a day later after allegations surfaced that a juror made anti-gay comments during deliberations on the fate of Careaga, who is gay.

    Defense attorney David Bogenschutz asked the judge for a mistrial, saying the bias hindered his client's right to a fair trial. But Broward Circuit Judge Illona Holmes turned Bogenschutz's request down.

    "There is no evidence to suggest that he was convicted by this jury because of sexual preference," she said.

    Careaga faces a minimum of four years in prison. He will be sentenced May 5.

    The jury found Careaga guilty of DUI manslaughter after 11 and a half hours of deliberations earlier this week. Careaga was charged in the crash that killed Lopez-Ruiz on Sept. 10, 2010. Careaga, 46, had pleaded not guilty.

    Careaga was found guilty on one count of DUI manslaughter and guilty on one count of DUI manslaughter with an unlawful blood alcohol level.

    Once the anti-gay allegations were made, the judge asked each juror: "Did you hear anyone make any derogatory comment regarding Mr. Careaga, or Mr. Stapleton, or their lifestyle, or being gay or anything like that?"

    While he said he was unclear about the exact comment that was made, one juror said he did hear something.

    Before making its decision, the jury had reviewed Careaga's testimony from Monday. The jury had seen video of the accident and video of Careaga drinking at the Galleria Mall half an hour before the crash.

    After deliberating on Tuesday for five hours, the jurors sent Holmes a question: what should be verdict be if Careaga's blood alcohol level was above the legal limit of .08 percent, but he was not impaired?

    Holmes declined to answer the question to avoid influencing the verdict, she said.

    Police said Lopez-Ruiz, who was set to begin her first season with the Miami Heat Dancers, was riding her motorcycle in the 700 block of E. Sunrise Boulevard when she was struck by a Mercedes driven by Careaga.

    Police said Careaga drifted out of his lane when he hit the 22-year-old, who was thrown from her motorcycle and died at the scene.

    Careaga told officers he'd had two vodka drinks before the incident after being arrested, police said. Authorities said Careaga had a blood alcohol level of .28 at the time of the crash, more than three times the legal limit in Florida.