DADE CITY — Linda Hiracheta's attention bounced back and forth Thursday evening between her cellphone and the courthouse's automatic glass doors.
She dialed, then switched to speakerphone.
Her Spanish flowed rapid fire into the receiver about her son, Carlos Perez. One word, she repeated: libre, which means "free."
After a year and two months in jail, here at the end of his first-degree murder trial, that's what he was: free.
Perez was charged in the May 12, 2013, shooting of Arturo Escamilla in an abandoned house at 14918 Dade St.
Original reports said Escamilla got into a dispute with Perez. Prosecutors said Perez shot Escamilla twice in the head.
Witness Cesar Limas told deputies he wrestled the gun away from Perez, 29, and he fled, a report states.
But assistant public defender Dustin Anderson made his case on the inconsistencies in Limas' testimony and a lack of evidence tying Perez to the crime.
Five men were in the house where, Limas testified, he sold marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine. After two gunshots sounded from inside, people in the neighborhood watched four men run out. Perez was the first and ran down the street. The other men jumped in a car and sped off.
Jurors learned that Perez said he had been sleeping on a couch in the house when a fight broke out, and that he was running for his life. Family members of Escamilla, 24, said he never had trouble with Perez. But he'd had feuds with Limas and others in his group.
In the days preceding the killing, Limas had been photographed in the house holding what was believed to be the .45-caliber handgun that killed Escamilla.
Anderson told jurors the state had more evidence against its witnesses than the man in the defendant's chair. The jury took an hour and five minutes to reach a decision: not guilty.
That's a rarity in a first-degree murder case. The last person in Pasco County to be acquitted of first-degree murder was Anthony Harris in 2010. Harris was accused of gunning down a Dade City drug dealer.
Before the verdict was read, Judge Pat Siracusa warned Perez and his family to stay stoic and quiet no matter the outcome, and they did.
"If we could, we would have jumped (for joy)," said his sister Corina Perez while they waited outside the courthouse lobby for him to emerge.
Then, through the sliding glass, they saw him walking through the corridor with his white dress shirt untucked. His mother, sister and niece crowded around. A passing bailiff and a court reporter congratulated them.
There wouldn't be a party, just a home-cooked meal. The family's home was close enough to walk there.
They turned west on the sidewalk toward a setting sun and Hiracheta looped an arm around the shoulders of her son, now a free man.
Contact Alex Orlando at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.