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Slightly different verdict has same result in retrial

LARGO — In his second trial for killing a 42-year-old Pinellas Park prostitute, Leo Richard Berube was convicted of second-degree murder instead of first-degree murder.

The distinction may not make a difference.

Berube was serving a mandatory life sentence after his 2006 first-degree murder conviction for killing Ann Griffith, but earlier this year an appeals court said he should get a new trial.

He was convicted Friday of second-degree murder, which does not always carry a life sentence. But because Berube committed the 2003 murder less than three years after getting out of prison, he falls under a law that requires he be sentenced to life in prison again, assistant state attorney Frank Piazza said.

"He certainly deserves life," Piazza said.

First-degree murder means the killing was premeditated.

Berube, 41, was convicted of strangling Griffith with a lamp cord after going to her motel room for sex. Her husband, Ed, was in the bathroom at the time but apparently did not realize she was being killed. Both Griffiths were cocaine addicts who had been on a four-day binge.

The jury did not know Berube had been convicted of the murder in 2006, that he had previously been given a 12-year prison sentence for sexual battery, or that he has been investigated but not charged in other violent assaults.

Some of that history was presented to the jury in the first trial, which is why the 2nd District Court of Appeal ordered a new trial.

The jury spent about five hours deliberating Friday.

In closing arguments, Assistant State Attorney James Hellickson said it was clear Berube intended to kill Ann Griffith. Testimony indicated it would take at least two minutes to strangle someone.

But defense attorney Richard Watts said the evidence was conflicting. He pointed to witnesses who heard a loud crash and then saw Berube leaving the LaMark Charles motel in Pinellas Park immediately afterward — not long enough for the struggle to have gone on.

Slightly different verdict has same result in retrial 07/24/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 24, 2009 11:50pm]
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