TAMPA — An appeals court has granted a new trial to a man who got consecutive life sentences despite cooperating with authorities on the advice of his parents and attorney.
The reversal hinges on Garrett Marc Nunes' confession.
Nunes was 17 when he admitted that he helped rob, kill and burn another teenager during a September 2003 drug deal in Brandon. He led investigators to the triggerman, who also was sentenced to life in prison.
Over the objection of Nunes' attorneys, prosecutors then used his statements against him at trial. He was found guilty in March 2007 of first-degree murder, armed robbery and arson.
But Wednesday, the 2nd District Court of Appeal said jurors aren't supposed to hear confessions made during plea negotiations.
Even though detectives promised no leniency in exchange for the statement, Nunes, now 22, had reason to believe that it marked the beginning of the plea bargaining process, the appellate panel said.
The ruling drew praise from attorney Caroline Tesche, who had encouraged Nunes to come forward and assist law enforcement on the belief that he would engender good will. Before trial, she argued unsuccessfully to Hillsborough Circuit Judge Wayne Timmerman that prosecutors and detectives broke her trust and misled her client.
The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office did offer a plea deal of 30 years in prison, but Nunes rejected it as too harsh.
Tesche, now a judicial candidate, said the reversal was "a vindication for a young man who came forward to cooperate and should have been afforded more leniency."
Prosecutors will discuss their options, Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi said.
They should expect a flurry of new motions on Nunes' behalf.
Now that the confession will be thrown out, his attorneys will argue that all the evidence it helped investigators find should go, too, said Roy Black, one of the Miami attorneys who handled Nunes' appeal.
"I imagine there will be some heated litigation over that," he said.