Crime

Keys man serving 30 years for double DUI-manslaughter has retrial delayed when prosecutor is involved in crash on way to court

A former Marathon man who received 30 years in prison for killing two people while driving drunk returns to the Keys in January for a retrial.

The reason: The Third District Court of Appeal ruled that one of the jurors knew a chief prosecution witness but didn't initially disclose it. Therefore, the court vacated the conviction. Another juror also revealed knowing the witness but was removed from the jury after the trial started.

Pierson Villalobos, now 34, was convicted in October 2012 of two felony counts of driving under the influence-manslaughter stemming from a Nov. 28, 2009, crash at U.S. 1 and 23rd Street in Old Town Marathon. The jury had rejected the defense's claim that someone other than Villalobos was at the wheel.

He had been scheduled for retrial on Monday before Acting Circuit Court Judge Ruth Becker, but it's been delayed to January because on her way to court, prosecutor Colleen Reed was in a car crash not far from the site of the deadly crash.

"T-boned on the way to court, on her way to pick a jury that morning. She was on U.S. 1 and she was hit and she was sent to the hospital," State Attorney Catherine Vogel said Tuesday.

"She's OK but she's shaken up. She has to recuperate," Vogel said.

At the time of Villalobos' crash, the Florida Highway Patrol said his 1999 Ford pickup was headed northbound on U.S. 1 and collided with a 2009 Toyota driven by Mercedes Diaz. It then struck a car driven by Deborah Mangrum, 34.

Mangrum, a mother of four, died at the scene. Christopher Jennings, her passenger, died a few days later at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

According to the July 23, 2014, ruling from a Third District three-judge panel -- including attorney Ed Scales, who practiced in Key West before he was appointed -- Villalobos had a blood alcohol level of .391. In Florida, one is considered legally drunk at .08.

During questioning of prospective jurors, Becker read to them a list of potential witnesses, asking if any of them knew or had a prior business or social relationship with any of them. The list included blood analyst Jody Gyokeres of Marathon, who processed Villalobos' blood.

No one came forward. A jury of six, plus an alternate, was chosen.

On the trial's third day, state Trooper Elmo Williams was testifying that he accompanied Villalobos to the hospital for a blood draw and watched Gyokeres draw the suspect's blood.

During a break in his testimony, juror James Stelzer came forward and said he and is wife knew Gyokeres and her boyfriend, and they "had dinner together a couple of times." Stelzer told Becker the relationship would not affect his ability to be impartial. But he was removed from the jury at the defense's request.

The trial resumed and when Williams was done testifying, juror John Arvidson came forward and said he, too, knew Gyokeres. She had paid him to do handyman work at her home over the past four years and the last time was about two months before the trial.

Like Stelzer, Arvidson was asked if he could be impartial. He said yes, but the defense moved to have him removed.

Becker let him stay, reasoning that in a small town, people run into each other. She also found that Arvidson didn't know specifically what Gyokeres did in her job.

With Stelzer off the jury, there were six left with no alternate. The appeals court called Gyokeres a "significant witness for the state" and that Becker erred in letting Arvidson stay.

If Arvidson was booted like Stelzer, that would have left five jurors, meaning the trial process would have to start over.

Two memorial markers remain at the site of the deadly crash.

  Comments