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VERDICT WATCH: Luis Toledo Trial Death Penalty Phase


[Watch live coverage of the trial on the LawNewz Network, with in-studio legal analysis in the player above when court begins. For a raw feed of the trial, watch in the player below this article.]

Deliberations began Friday in the penalty phase of Florida man Luis Toledo. Jurors found him guilty last week in the second-degree murder of his wife Yessenia Suarez, and the first-degree murders of her 8-year-old son Michael Otto, and her 9-year-old daughter Thalia Otto. He was also convicted for tampering with physical evidence because he successfully hid the bodies. Court is scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m. EST.

Jurors have two choices: send Toledo to prison for life without parole, or send him to be executed. Prosecutors proved Toledo killed Suarez at their home early Oct. 23, 2013 over her affair with a male coworker, then he murdered the children to eliminate witnesses. In interview footage, he told authorities he killed Yessenia by karate chopping her in the neck after she attacked him. He blamed a neighbor for murdering the Otto siblings. Clearly, jurors did not believe this story.

The bodies have never been found.

Jurors must agree unanimously to a death sentence, or else Toledo will serve life. That means they must agree that at least one aggravating factor exists. Assistant State Attorney Ryan Will gave them those factors in his opening statement on Wednesday, 5 for each child: the victim was under 12; the victim was particularly vulnerable; the murder was committed to avoid or prevent arrest; this was committed in a cold, calculated, premeditated manner; and Toledo was previously convicted of a felony involving the use of threat or violence to another person.

The defense said in opening statements Wednesday that Toledo suffers from head problems. On Thursday, they brought Dr. Joseph Wu to make that point on the stand. He discussed PET scans to show a spot on Toledo’s brain, indicating lack of impulse control and judgment. Wu told jurors the defendant suffered from cognitive defects after getting into a car accident at 16. Other spots indicate seizures, he said. Upon questioning by the defense, he agreed that discovering a spouse’s affair could cause a non-convulsive seizure.

Prosecutors brought up Dr. Larry Holder to contradict Wu’s testimony. He said Toledo’s brain was normal in a PET scan.

In opening statements on Friday, prosecutor Mark Johnson reiterated the aggravating factors.  He argued that these fit the crime. For example, Toledo was previously convicted in a 1999 violent robbery. Even Suarez’s murder qualified as a prior conviction since she was killed before the kids. Toledo murdered the children because he wanted to avoid responsibility, Johnson said.

The prosecutor acknowledged possible mitigating factors, but said defense witness Dr. Eric Mings was wrong about Toledo’s supposed mental problems. He also attacked Wu’s analysis.

He pointed at the prosecution’s own expert witness, who said that a PET scan was not reliable.

Defense lawyer Michael Nielsen told jurors the 1999 conviction shouldn’t be given much weight. Though he acknowledged the children were vulnerable, he said the prosecution hasn’t proven that Toledo killed them to avoid charges. He said the defense experts’ analysis was reliable, and that Wu was correct in saying Toledo had brain problems.

Stay with and the LawNewz Network for continuing coverage of the trial.

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