TAMPA — In a murder trial so gruesome that a male juror fainted in his chair, two teenage sisters described how they saw their mother hacked to death by her boyfriend and how one of the girls sought to save her with a broom.
A day of testimony Tuesday began with the older sister weeping quietly as jurors heard a hysterical 911 call she made, and it ended with the younger sister sobbing as she was shown the 2-foot machete used to kill her mother.
Alexander Cote Ferrer, 40, charged with second-degree murder, is accused of fatally slashing his longtime girlfriend, Danitza Fonseca, 50, in their Tampa bedroom on Aug. 8, 2010. He was assisted throughout the first day of trial by a Spanish translator, although both girls testified that he speaks English. He showed no reaction to them.
Fonseca's daughter Jennifer, 18 at the time of the attack, went first Tuesday. She testified that she, her boyfriend and her 16-year-old sister Georgia were cooking dinner when they heard screams from their mother's bedroom. They had to break down her locked door.
Jennifer testified that she found her mother on her hands and knees beside the bed, covered with blood. Cote Ferrer, the teenager said, stood over her mother with his machete raised, then slashed her again.
She said Cote Ferrer told them, "You better run, or you're next."
Then jurors heard her 911 call to police from outside the house. "He has a machete!" she screamed. "Hurry! There's blood everywhere!"
Her younger sister Georgia could be heard yelling, "We got to go back!" Jennifer begged her, "Please don't go back!"
During her own testimony late in the afternoon, Georgia Fonseca told jurors that Cote Ferrer smirked at them when they broke into the room. She said she searched for a weapon to defend her mother, but all she could find was a kitchen broom.
She said Cote Ferrer then came out of the bedroom, moving toward them, machete in his hand. The three youths fled the house.
He followed them into the yard, she said, then returned to the house.
Hillsborough County Medical Examiner Vernard Adams testified that their mother, Danitza Fonseca, bled to death from 22 slash wounds. The blows, he said, were hard enough to fracture her skull and cut bone. She also suffered two punctures on her chest that prosecutors say were caused by a barbecue fork with prongs bent at a 90-degree angle.
As Adams testified, Assistant State Attorney Stephen Udagawa showed the jurors graphic color photos of the wounds.
Six jurors and two alternates craned to look. One suddenly slumped his chair, head rolled back.
"He's fainted," the medical examiner said.
Adams rushed into the jury box, put the juror's head in his lap and gave him water to sip as regained consciousness.
Hillsborough County Circuit Judge William Fuente released the juror, and the trial continued with the remaining six jurors and one alternate.
Further testimony included a Tampa police account of a confession of sorts that Cote Ferrer made after his arrest:
"I f------ offed somebody," he reportedly said.
Cote Ferrer's public defender, Rocky Brancato, told the jury the case wasn't about who did it, it was about Cote Ferrer's state of mind at the time of the killing. He said Cote Ferrer's state of mind did not meet the standard for a second-degree murder conviction. He said the defendant had not shown hatred, spite or intent.
The defense will present its case today.
John Barry can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3383.