A South Florida man once sentenced to die for a 1994 triple murder was acquitted Friday following a new trial that was ordered by the state Supreme Court.
A Broward County jury deliberated about 10 days before finding Seth Penalver not guilty of the murders of nightclub owner Casmir Sucharski, Marie Rogers and Sharon Anderson during a robbery at Sucharski's home in Miramar.
Penalver, 39, who has been in custody since his arrest in 1994, wept and kneeled as if in prayer after he heard the verdict, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.
Jurors concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to be certain that Penalver was one of the gunmen who committed the triple murder, the paper reported. A videotape captured the crime, but one man wore a hat and sunglasses. Penalver insisted he wasn't involved.
The jury’s acquittals of him – which also included not guilty verdicts for armed robbery and armed burglary – ended a five-month trial.
Penalver had been tried twice before. His first trial ended in a mistrial, and in 1999 he was convicted and sentenced to die. That verdict was tossed in 2006 by the Supreme Court, which found problems with evidence.
After Friday’s verdict, Penalver repeatedly embraced defense attorney Hilliard Moldof, who also wept, according to the Sun Sentinel.
Moldof praised jurors, and said the case has taken up almost half of his 37-year career as a lawyer, the paper reported.
"It's obviously a watershed moment of 18 years for me," he said.
Penalver’s onetime co-defendant Pablo Ibar remains on Death Row after his conviction in 2000, the Sun Sentinel reported.
Moldof said the verdict proves that “Good, hard work, and a good jury system, is America at its best.”
Anderson’s sister said she has never doubted Penalver’s guilt, however, the Sun Sentinel reported.
“I have to respect the jury process. That doesn't mean I have to like it. They made an egregious mistake today," Deborah Bowie said. "This guy is a murderer, and they let him out."