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After appeal, man's life sentences shrivel to 15 years

TAMPA — A man who saw his life prison sentences overturned by an appeals court pleaded guilty to murder Thursday in exchange for a much lighter punishment.

Garrett Marc Nunes, 23, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and 10 years' probation for his role in a deadly drug deal.

He was 17 when he admitted to authorities that he helped rob, kill and burn another teenager in Brandon in September 2003. Nunes wasn't the triggerman, but he helped douse the dead teen and his car with gasoline and set them on fire.

His confession helped break the case. Last year, the 2nd District Court of Appeal said prosecutors erred by using it against Nunes at his first-degree murder trial. The court ruled that the incriminating statements were protected because they were made as part of the plea bargaining process.

Appellate judges threw out Nunes' conviction and his consecutive life sentences.

That decision left the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office with a much weaker case, prosecutor Jalal Harb said.

"Our case took a big hit," Harb said Thursday. "Obviously, a big part of our presentation at the last trial was his statement."

After the reversal, defense attorneys argued that the other evidence in the case was also tainted because it resulted from the confession, Harb said. A circuit judge disagreed, and the issue was pending before the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Prosecutors decided a plea offer "was the right thing to do," Harb said.

Nunes, who has been in custody since 2003, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, armed robbery and arson.

Last year, an appeals court affirmed the life sentence of the shooter, Pablo Sandoval.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

After appeal, man's life sentences shrivel to 15 years 10/29/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 29, 2009 11:21pm]

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