Joaquin Martinez, a Spanish citizen who spent three years on Florida's death row, is acquitted of two murder counts during a retrial watched by Spain.
By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 7, 2001
TAMPA -- He spent three years on Florida's death row for killing a couple in their home near Tampa in 1995. But Wednesday, 30-year-old Joaquin Martinez became a free man.
A jury took two hours to acquit the Spanish citizen of two counts of first-degree murder during a retrial that was watched closely by the Spanish media, the king of Spain and the pope.
After he was declared not guilty, Martinez's lips quivered, and he cried into his attorneys' shoulders.
Martinez's mother, Sara Martinez, sobbed. His family and some members of the Spanish media applauded and cheered. He was then led back into a holding cell for processing. As he waited, he turned to his attorney, Peter Raben.
"Thank you for giving me my life back," he told Raben.
Martinez was sentenced to death in 1997 for the murders of Douglas Lawson and his girlfriend, Sherrie McCoy-Ward, in their home in Clair Mel, east of Tampa. But the Florida Supreme Court overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial because a detective in the first trial improperly told the jury he thought that Martinez was guilty and a prosecutor repeated the statement in closing arguments.
The Spanish media in Miami, where Martinez's family lives, and in Spain, where Martinez was born, devoured the story. Television reporters flew in from Spain for the retrial, the pope spoke out against the death penalty and Sara Martinez met with the king of Spain. Hundreds of thousands of dollars was raised to pay for Martinez's defense. The family also hired Tampa jury consultant Harvey Moore.