DADE CITY — Luc Pierre-Charles, convicted of murdering two teens on a dirt road in Trilby in 2006, has been granted a new trial.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that jurors should not have heard testimony from Pierre-Charles' brother, Andre, about whether he nodded his head when his father asked him if Luc committed the murders. Such evidence is considered hearsay and is not admissible.
Authorities say Luc Pierre-Charles killed Derek Pieper and Raymond Veluz, students at Wesley Chapel High School, in order to protect his drug turf. The night of July 28, 2006, the teens left a party to buy marijuana and ended up kneeling in the dirt and begging for their lives on Harris Hill Road, where they were shot multiple times in the back of the head.
At Pierre-Charles' trial in March 2009, prosecutors presented several witnesses who claimed that he made statements and admissions to them about the killings. One witness said Pierre-Charles did it because he wanted to bag his first body. Another said she overheard a phone call between Andre and Luc Pierre-Charles in which she could hear Luc telling the boys to pray.
Prosecutors wanted to play a video of Andre Pierre-Charles and his parents as they sat in an interview room at the Sheriff's Office.
"I didn't kill nobody," Andre told his parents. "I already told you that."
Then, in a hushed voice, his father asked him straight: "Who did it? Luc?"
"I don't believe that," his mother interjected.
But then Andre, who had been slumped over a table, lifted his head and nodded.
"Oh Lord! Oh Jesus!" Angela Pierre-Charles cried, cradling her face in her hand.
Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa ruled that the tape was hearsay and did not allow prosecutors to play it.
But the judge did let them question Andre about whether his father asked him the question and whether he nodded. Andre claimed he was nodding and shaking his head and making hand gestures because he didn't want to talk to investigators anymore and wanted to leave. He said he wasn't answering "yes" to the question.
Jurors spent five hours deliberating their verdict. During that time, they asked three questions regarding Andre's testimony.
The appeals court said that proved that his hearsay testimony became a feature of the trial and could reasonably have affected the verdict.
"I think that pushed them over the edge," said Lane Lastinger, the attorney appointed to represent Luc Pierre-Charles. "It should not have been part of the case."
Hearsay evidence is sometimes admissible if it's used to show that a witness was lying. But Lastinger said prosecutors were trying to use it to show that Andre was implicating his brother.
"It's clearly not admissible evidence for that purpose because it's hearsay," he said.
Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia said the state Attorney General's Office is considering whether to ask the appeals court to grant a motion for a rehearing to reconsider the ruling. He did not want to comment on the case but said he thinks some of the facts as stated in the ruling are inaccurate.
Luc Pierre-Charles, now 23, was sentenced to life in prison for the killings. Prosecutors had been seeking the death penalty. If Pierre-Charles goes to trial again, rules prevent another death penalty trial.
Also facing trial later this year in the murders is 25-year-old Tyree Jenkins. He is already serving a life sentence in the 2008 murder of Willie Cherry in Tampa.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.