In 2009, Torrence Bates was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Now, he's getting a new trial.
The Florida 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned Bates' conviction in a ruling dated Nov. 4. It said the jury was not given the proper definition of manslaughter, one of the lesser charges on which Bates, now 23, could have been convicted.
The jury had been told a conviction of manslaughter meant Bates intentionally killed the victim, Jose Godineaux, who was 22 at the time of his death. They should have been instructed that a conviction of manslaughter meant Bates had intent to cause an act that killed the victim. The difference in the wording is slight, but enough to get his conviction thrown out and the case tried all over again.
On Nov. 9, 2007, Bates was homeless and looking for crack cocaine, he testified during his trial. He went to the New Port Richey house of Godineaux, a drug dealer known as "Pinky." Bates carried a gun, as he always did for protection, he testified. He said when he came inside, the house was dark and Godineaux shot at him. The bullet hit Bates' hand, causing his gun to go off, Bates said. The shot hit Godineaux in the head and he died the next morning.
Godineaux's girlfriend testified Bates barged into the apartment with his gun drawn and fired first.
The state charged Bates with first-degree felony murder, which meant it did not have to prove the killing was premeditated, only that Bates killed Godineaux while committing a violent felony — in this case, robbery. Jurors were allowed to consider lesser charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter. If they decided Bates, who had no prior record, acted in self-defense, or the killing was justifiable or accidental, he would've been found not guilty.
A 12-member jury deliberated about 90 minutes before finding Bates guilty of second-degree murder. He faced a minimum of 25 years in prison and maximum of life. In an unusual move, one of the jurors came to Bates' sentencing to ask Circuit Judge Shawn Crane for leniency. The juror said the jury found Bates guilty because they had to, because they swore to follow the law, even if they didn't like it.
Crane sentenced Bates to 40 years.
This new trial is a gamble because, if again convicted of second-degree murder, Bates could be sentenced to life in prison. Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis said the jury will also be allowed to consider the lesser charge of manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years.
Or Bates could be found not guilty.
The trial is expected to begin within the next few months.
Times staff writer Molly Moorhead contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.