Walter Ruiz is headed back to prison, and perhaps death row, after a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder in the 1995 murder-for-hire plot that left Rolando Landrian dead.
Ruiz was convicted of the same murder, armed robbery and kidnapping charges four years ago and sentenced to die. But last year, the Florida Supreme Court granted Ruiz a new trial on the grounds prosecutors had been guilty of "egregious and inexcusable prosecutorial misconduct."
The penalty phase of the trial begins today. A 12-member jury will decide whether to recommend whether Ruiz be sent back to death row or get life in prison. The judge makes the final decision on sentencing.
Ruiz, 41, was one of four people charged in the murder of Landrian in April 1995. Lotia Romanes and her husband, Delio, were convicted of hiring Ruiz to kill Landrian, who was Mrs. Romanes' former common-law husband.
Mrs. Romanes said Landrian had molested her two daughters from a previous marriage and ultimately fathered five children by them. But prosecutors said Mrs. Romanes' motive was greed and that she and her husband wanted to take over Landrian's business. Lotia and Delio Romanes both received life sentences.
In Ruiz's 1996 trial, Mickey Hammonds, the getaway driver, told jurors that Ruiz confronted Landrian outside a Kennedy Boulevard convenience store, forced him into a car and robbed him at gunpoint. Ruiz eventually forced Landrian out of the car and started firing, he said. They left the bullet-riddled body on a quiet south Tampa street, Hammonds said.
Ruiz claimed at both trials that he was shopping with his mother in Orlando at the time of the shooting.