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DNA evidence may clear Honduran man sentenced to death in Florida

By Barbara Liston

SANFORD (Reuters) - Lawyers seeking to overturn the murder conviction of a Honduran man who has been on Florida's death row since 2006 presented new DNA and blood stain evidence in a Florida court on Tuesday.

Clemente Aguirre-Jarquin, 33, was convicted in the 2004 murders of his neighbors at a Seminole County trailer park. Cheryl Williams, 47, was stabbed 129 times, and her mother, Carol Bareis, 69, was stabbed twice.

Blood stain expert Barie Goetz testified Tuesday that the killer would have been splattered with blood spurting from 131 stab wounds from a 10-inch knife at close range. Goetz said the blood found on the thigh area of Aguirre's shorts were contact stains and matched Aguirre's claim that he found the bodies and rolled them over to check for a pulse.

"The wearer of those shorts did not inflict the injuries to Cheryl Williams," said Goetz, a Pennsylvania-based forensic consultant. Goetz also testified that Aguirre's bloody shoe prints at the scene indicated careful walking around the bodies.

The Innocence Project, which is dedicated to using DNA testing to exonerate those who are wrongly convicted, and Aguirre's appellate legal team also obtained DNA analysis of some of the 150 blood stains photographed and swabbed at the crime scene but never tested.

NEW DNA EVIDENCE

The new DNA analysis concluded that eight blood stains at the crime scene matched Samantha Williams, the daughter and granddaughter of the victims, and none matched Aguirre, according to a report by the Innocence Project.

Samantha Williams had a history of mental illness, and during two mental breakdowns after Aguirre's conviction confessed to the killings, according to the report. Witnesses also said Samantha and her mother had a heated argument before the killings, and that Samantha sent her boyfriend to her mother's trailer the next morning, saying she had a "bad feeling" something had happened to her.

Nina Morrison, a lawyer for the Innocence Project, told Reuters that Samantha Williams has been subpoenaed to testify Wednesday.

Aguirre's legal team is asking Judge Jessica Recksiedler to reverse the conviction based on either the new evidence, the ineffectiveness of Aguirre's trial lawyer or actual innocence.

A spokeswoman for the Seminole County State Attorney's office which prosecuted Aguirre would not comment on whether it would challenge the new evidence in court.

In 2006, the same year Aguirre was convicted, Milton Dedge, who spent 22 years on death row, became the first person in the Florida freed as a result of new DNA evidence. Dedge was convicted by the same prosecutor's office as Aguirre and was represented post-conviction by a legal team which included the Innocence Project and Morrison.

Aguirre maintained his innocence from the beginning and testified on his own behalf at trial.

Aguirre said he often socialized with the Williams family, and went to their trailer at 6 a.m. on June 17, 2004 looking for a beer to help him sleep. Aguirre said he found the bodies, rolled Cheryl over to check for a pulse, and grabbed a knife near the bodies for protection in case the killer was still present.

As an illegal immigrant, Aguirre decided not to call police out of fear he would be deported back to the violent barrio in Honduras from which he had fled to America. He said he tossed his blood-smeared clothes in a bag, hid the bag on his roof and initially denied knowing anything when questioned by police. Later on that day, he told police how he had found the bodies.

Morrison and Goetz said that DNA testing was well established when Aguirre went to trial and could have been requested by his defense lawyer.

(Editing by David Adams and Cynthia Osterman)

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