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St. Pete houseboat murder prosecution begins with focus on timeline

Opening statements key on the accused killer’s movements, from an early morning phone call to an arrest in North Carolina.

LARGO — The lawyer started with the crime scene, taking jurors through the houseboat as if they were accompanying the woman searching.

The woman — who had an appointment aboard the boat that morning, April 12, 2013, with vessel owner John Travlos and his longtime friend Germana Morin — called out.

“No response,” Assistant State Attorney Rene Bauer said during her opening statement.

So the woman disembarked from the Relax-Inn at slip 89 in the Loggerhead Marina near Maximo Park in St. Petersburg and got a man who was also there with her. They re-entered the boat together and again called out for Travlos and Morin.

“No response,” Bauer said to the jury from the podium inside courtroom 6 at the Pinellas County Justice Center.

The pair made their way to the master bedroom, at the stern of the boat. It was pitch dark from blackout curtains. The woman felt her way to the windows and pulled back the drapes to let in some light.

“There they saw (Morin) laying dead, laying there at the end of the bed, with her ankles bound by duct tape,” Bauer said.

Morin, 74, had been cut “ear to ear,” Bauer told jurors. Investigators later found Travlos, 75, also bound by duct tape. He had been stabbed 11 times.

Now, marina handyman Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria, accused in the pair’s murder, is standing trial, charged with two counts of first-degree murder. Testimony in his case began Tuesday after four days of jury selection. If convicted, Figueroa-Sanabria could receive the death penalty.

RELATED STORY: Trial to begin in St. Pete double murder on houseboat

Figueroa-Sanabria, now 47, has spent six years in the Pinellas County jail awaiting his day in court through lawyer turnover and other delays. He wore a purple shirt and his hair in a bun as the prosecutor laid out every detail for jurors. He sat at the end of an extended defense table, lengthened to accommodate his three lawyers.

Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria, 47, is accused of killing John Travlos and Germana Morin.
Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria, 47, is accused of killing John Travlos and Germana Morin. [ Pinellas County Sheriff's Office ]

Bauer then started the timeline over, this time from the perspective of Figueroa-Sanabria and his girlfriend.

The day before Travlos and Morin were found dead, the handyman had been painting the roof of Travlos’ boat, Bauer said. He left about 7 p.m. and walked to his nearby apartment where he had dinner and watched television with his girlfriend. When she fell asleep at 1 or 2 a.m. that night, Bauer told jurors, Figueroa-Sanabria was next to her in bed.

She woke up to a call from Figueroa-Sanabria at 4:15 a.m., Bauer said. He was panicked, and asked her to pick him up on a street near the marina. She arrived in a white Astrovan. He was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, a black hoodie and what appeared to be a backpack underneath his sweatshirt, Bauer said.

Then Bauer listed the cell phone pings, revealing a frantic narrative.

At 4:44 a.m., Figueroa-Sanabria called his brother who lived in Utica, N.Y.

From 5:07 a.m. to 5:20 a.m., Figueroa-Sanabria and his girlfriend drove near St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. They stopped at a 7-11 convenience store on Roosevelt Boulevard and he threw something in a dumpster. Then they returned to their apartment near the marina.

He called his brother more, called 411 for information on bus stations and rental care companies, and called David Reynolds Jewelry and Coin. At 9 a.m. the couple was at an Enterprise rent-a-car on 34th Street S in St. Petersburg before going to the jeweler on Central Avenue near 40th Street. That’s where he sold a 14-carat necklace and bracelet that had belonged to Travlos for $2,569. Then they went to a Bank of America branch and deposited $800 into his checking account, Bauer said. The day before, his balance was only $10 and he had written a $775 rent check from that account, according to the prosecutor.

Next, Figueroa-Sanabria, rented a Ford Taurus, and, now alone, went to Walmart to buy a GPS unit. He texted his brother, Bauer said, asking for his address in Utica. Then he started driving.

His phone pinged in Tampa, in Orlando, in Palm Coast. At one point he pulled off the interstate to mail a 13-pound package to his brother.

He was finally pulled over in North Carolina at 1 a.m. the next morning. He told the officers who took him in that he was headed to New York.

Having covered the steps to Figueroa-Sanabria’s arrest, Bauer told jurors that the evidence against him is profound: his DNA on the duct tape used to bind Travlos and Morin, Travlos’ blood on the carpet of the Astrovan, the victims’ blood on his clothes.

“At the conclusion of the state’s presentation, when you consider all the facts and evidence that we present," Bauer said before wrapping her opening statement, “the state believes that you will find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant murdered John Travlos and Germana Morin.”

Figueroa-Sanabria’s attorney, Keith Hammond, then gave a brief opening statement. He said Figueroa-Sanabria is not guilty and called all the evidence against Figueroa-Sanabria “circumstantial.”

Hammond said Figueroa-Sanabria doesn’t deny that his DNA is on the duct tape or anywhere else on the boat, as he worked extensively on the vessel.

“His DNA would be all over the boat," he said. “It’s perfectly logical that his DNA would be there.”

And, Hammond said, Figueroa-Sanabria doesn’t deny what the cell phone records show: that he drove all over town and then headed to New York, Hammond said. What Figueroa-Sanabria does deny is that he committed any murders.

“It looks like they’ve got all this overwhelming evidence, but just like any murder mystery novel, things can turn out differently at the end of the case," Hammond said.

The trial is expected to take several weeks.