“Shorty” Aguirre-Jarquin, a Florida death row inmate, has presented new DNA findings that reveal that he may be innocent of the 2004 murders of Cheryl Williams and Carol Bareis. DNA tests pointed away from Aguirre-Jarquin to Williams’ daughter, who has severe mental illness.
“Tragically Mr. Aguirre’s lawyer never requested the DNA testing that could have proven that he was innocent as he always maintained,” said Nina Morrison, a Senior Staff Attorney with the Innocence Project, “But new DNA testing on multiple pieces of evidence now confirms that Mr. Aguirre was telling the truth all along, and he shouldn’t have to spend another day waiting to be put to death…”
He has been on death row for 7 years. Bareis and Williams, a mother and daughter, were found stabbed to death in their trailer in Seminole County on June 17, 2004. Aguirre was an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, and initially told police that he didn’t know anything. Later that day, he admitted to police that he had gone to the home at 6 a.m. that morning hoping to get some alcohol and saw the two women dead. He was one of a group of friends that socialized with the victims. After discovering the body of Williams, he grabbed a knife (the murder weapon) afraid that the killer was still there. After discovering the second body, Bareis, he fled the scene, dropping the knife. He never reported the crime.
The prosecution in the original trial only performed limited DNA testing. Enough to show that there was blood on his clothing, shoes, and his DNA on the knife. His defense lawyer never retained an expert or reviewed the 197 pieces of evidence in the case. The evidence was not inconsistent with Aguirre’s story, which he told the jury during his trial. He was convicted and sentenced to death.
In 2011, Aguirre’s new counsel at the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel (Middle Region), in consultation with the Innocence Project, sought DNA testing on all the untested evidence pieces. The prosecution did not oppose it, as it had done previously. More than 84 items were tested and none matched Aguirre. Most matched the victims’ profiles, but two bloodstains matched to Williams’ daughter (Bareis’ granddaughter) Samantha Williams. The team sought testing on the remaining pieces of evidence after receiving these results. This time, the prosecution did oppose the testing, but the court ordered it anyway. Again, no pieces of evidence matched Aguirre, but a total of 8 bloodstains matched Samantha Williams. These stains were spread over four rooms in the home and each near the victims’ blood.
“Mr. Aguirre is a victim of circumstance because he stumbled upon the crime and failed to report it,” said Maria DeLiberato, lead lawyer with the CCRC.
Aguirre’s attorneys have also amassed additional evidence of innocence including:
- Testimony of a crime scene expert that the bloodstains now known to be Samantha Williams’ were “fresh” at the time of photographing by the police.
- Testimony that the blood on Aguirre’s clothing and shoes does not contain spatter elements or projection elements that would be present if stabbing people at a close range.
- Testimony that one of the “wiped” stains containing the mother’s blood that was deposited on the arm of a kitchen chair (after she was killed) was left by someone wearing cotton or denim-type of fabric. Aguirre wore nylon fabric that day and Samantha Williams’ was known to wear khaki pants for work.
- Evidence that Samantha Williams had a long history of severe mental illness, which caused violence and that she had to be involuntarily committed in the past to facilities, including at least three times since the murders.
- Evidence that Samantha Williams and her mother had an argument the night of the murder.
- Testimony from friends and neighbors that Williams and her mother had a troubled relationship.
Aguirre’s lawyers are asking that the court set aside the verdict based upon new evidence, ineffective assistance of counsel, and innocence.
Aguirre is being represented by Maria DeLiberato and Marie-Louise Samuels Parmer (CCRC), Nina Morrison and Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project, and Executive Director Seth Miller of the Innocence Project of Florida.