Jurors recommended life without parole for Florida man Luis Toledo after he was found guilty of killing his wife Yessenia Suarez, and her children, 8-year-old Michael Otto and 9-year-old Thalia Otto.
In opening statements on Wednesday, defense lawyer Michael Nielsen said they accepted last week’s guilty verdict, but he asked for the jury’s mercy. He said that the defendant suffered from head problems. Experts testified Toledo dealt with brain damage, causing seizures and interfering with his judgment.
Prosecutors, for their part, showed that Toledo had a history of violence dating back to at least 1999, and had no brain problems. They brought out the children’s grandmother and father for victim impact statements.
In Friday’s closing arguments, Prosecutor Mark Johnson laid out the aggravating factors: 1) Toledo was convicted in the past of a felony involving violence or the threat of violence; 2) He killed children to avoid arrest; 3) these murders were cold, calculated, and premeditated; 4) the children were less than 12 years old; and 5) the victims were vulnerable. He argued that the factors fit. For example, Toledo was previously convicted in a 1999 violent robbery. Even Suarez’s murder qualified as a prior conviction since she died first. Toledo killed the children because he wanted to avoid responsibility, Johnson said.
He acknowledged possible mitigating factors, but said defense witness Dr. Eric Mings was wrong about Toledo’s supposed mental problems. He also attacked analysis by another defense expert, Dr. Joseph Wu.
Johnson says that now all these years later Wu is claiming #luistoledo suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was child
— Frank Fernandez (@frankfff) November 3, 2017
He pointed at the prosecution’s own expert witness, who said that a PET scan was not reliable.
Nielsen told jurors the 1999 conviction shouldn’t be given much weight. Though he acknowledged the children were vulnerable, he said the prosecution hasn’t proven that Toledo killed them to avoid charges. He said the defense experts’ analysis was reliable, and that Wu was correct in saying Toledo had brain problems.
Toledo was convicted last week in the second-degree murder of Suarez, the first-degree murders of the kids, and one count of tempering with physical evidence for successfully hiding the bodies. Prosecutors proved Toledo killed Suarez at their home early Oct. 23, 2013 over her affair with a male coworker, then he murdered the children to eliminate witnesses. In interview footage, he told authorities he killed Yessenia by karate chopping her in the neck after she attacked him. He blamed a neighbor for murdering the Otto siblings. Clearly, jurors did not believe this story.
The bodies have never been found. The formal sentencing for Toledo will be January 19th.
Editor’s note: This article first reflected that the clerk read that the jury recommended death. That was not correct.
Clerk had read what was widely misinterpreted as death sentence recommendation in Ct 1 but was not. Recommended life in Ct 1. pic.twitter.com/F00JzOYGwQ
— claire metz (@clairemetzwesh) November 3, 2017