Make us your home page

Lake Wales triple murder trial begins after third attempt

BARTOW — Minutes before he surrendered, defendant Leon Davis Jr. told a friend through sobs, "I hurt somebody, I hurt them bad," a state prosecutor told jurors as Davis' triple murder trial opened Tuesday morning.

In his opening statement, Assistant State Attorney Paul Wallace focused on the day of a December 2007 attack at a Lake Wales insurance agency that left two women and a baby dead.

Prosecutors say Davis attempted to rob the insurance office, and when clerks Yvonne Bustamante and her sister-in-law, Juanita Luciano, had little money to give him, he forced them into a restroom, bound them with duct tape, splashed gasoline on them and set them on fire.

That night, doctors delivered Luciano's baby prematurely because her burns were so extensive. The baby boy lived for three days.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

This is the third time lawyers and Circuit Judge J. Michael Hunter have tried to get this case before a jury. This past summer, the trial halted during jury selection so prosecutors could appeal Hunter's ruling allowing a defense expert to testify about problems with eyewitness identification. The appellate court upheld Hunter.

Hunter declared a mistrial in the second effort in October after a paramedic testified to what Yvonne Bustamante was thinking when she identified Davis as her attacker. A witness can testify to what someone said but not what that person was thinking.

After that mistrial was declared, Ebelia Rodriguez, Bustamante's mother, threw her purse at Davis, shouting at him. Bailiffs restrained her husband as he lunged across the courtroom benches at Davis.

Davis also is charged with first-degree murder for the shooting deaths of two clerks at a convenience store near Lake Alfred about a week before the Lake Wales attack. That case is expected to go to trial later this year. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in that case, too.

Lake Wales triple murder trial begins after third attempt 01/18/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 9:53pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours