Catalina de Erauso |The Pablo Ibar case
Pablo Ibar is the son of a Basque who has been in prison for 24 years, 16 of which he has spent on death row for a murder he maintains he did not commit. On January 19 this year, he was found guilty for the second time. The expert evidence in terms of DNA, footprints, hair, video images, guns could not determine that he was the perpetrator.
What follows is a summary of the most important facts of this case that already encompasses three trials in 1997, 2000 and 2018-19, eight appeals and some 10,000 pages. Pablo was arrested in Florida (USA) three weeks after a triple murder was committed. It shocked the citizens of Florida by the extreme cruelty of the two murderers towards their victims. The crime was recorded because the owner of the house and victim Mr. Sucharsky had installed a surveillance camera in the room where the crime took place and the media broadcasted the video in the aftermath. Pablo was formally accused of being one of the perpetrators on August 25, 1994 because of his physical resemblance to the perpetrator. The prosecution began to do its work at the scene of the crime, seizing the video recording, collecting bullet casings, taking fingerprints, hairs, footprints, organic liquid remains. A shirt with which the perpetrator had removed his sweat was also found. In the first trial 1997, it was ruled out that DNA material found on the shirt matched Pablo’s DNA. It was also excluded that a bloody footprint had been made by a shoe that belonged to a roommate of Pablo’s. In fact, the tenants of the apartment he lived in used to share clothes and shoes except for Pablo. Moreover, the hypothesis that a weapon that belonged to one of the flatmates was the weapon of the crime was rejected on the basis of a ballistic survey carried out by former detective Manzella. According to the police experts, that weapon was the same type of gun that was used in the triple crime. And this stage in the investigations, the former detective Manzella had played a significant role. Manzella, who had interrogated Pablo’s family and friends as well as an eyewitness, collaborated in the photographic and live lineups. When Pablo was under arrest for another drug-related matter that was completely unrelated to the triple murder, Manzella interrogated his mother. She was not informed that the photo was taken from the scene of the crime. It was a blurred black and white photo taken from the video that recorded the crime in 1994. In no transcript that is in possession of the court does it say she recognized Pablo in the photo when asked if the person in the photo was her son. However, a hoax circulates that his mother had answered affirmatively to the question, but this is only hearsay. In fact, prosecutor Chuck Norton states in a documentary made by the Basque television in the year 2000 that it was his family who recognized Pablo. For those who had attended the trials, it is notorious that Manzella responds to certain matters in a cumbersome way dwelling on tangential issues, distorting the relevance of crucial exculpating reports and, in so doing creates doubt about the defendant in court.
Gary Foy, one of the victims´ neighbour, stated that he had seen the perpetrators leave the victim’s house, get into a car and then saw who he later identified as Pablo in the lineups in car behind him while they waited at a red traffic light. He decided to testify in court because he had seen there was a $ 1,000 reward for any proof that brought about a conviction. In addition to these pieces of evidence, DNA tests, hairs and the shoeprint in Pablo’s flat were evaluated. Expert evidence was negative because neither the DNA belonged to Pablo nor did the shoe match the footprint found at the crime scene. Based on such data, there was a hung jury and there was a new trial in 2000. Pablo was found guilty and sentenced to death together with his friend Seth Peñalver. Pablo had had an ineffective defense counsel and requested to have another state-appointed lawyer assigned to him. He had been arrested for battery: he had beaten a pregnant woman. Ibar’s request was denied. Ibar and Peñalver were convicted on the basis of the same evidence used in 1997 and one more testimony. Pablo’s friend, Jean Klimezcko, testified against Pablo in the 2000 trial provoked by the bad relationship existing between them. He testified that he had seen how Pablo and Seth Peñalver had come to the flat with other people to look for the gun and that they had returned some time later in a black car to leave the gun. It was revealed during the 2018-19 retrial that Klimezcko had received money from Crime Stoppers for his testimony. Ibar’s state-appointed attorney neglected his duties in the second trial in that he did not question any of the evidence provided by the prosecution against Pablo nor did he provide a facial recognition report that was in his possession. That report came to the conclusion that the perpetrator was a different person from Pablo. Such negligent conduct would mark the judicial course of Paul’s case delaying subsequent appeals.
From the year 2000 onwards, Ibar’s defense began to appeal in order to achieve the annulment of the death sentence as was likewise the case of Seth Peñalver’s defense. This time he had a good lawyer, paid for by funds raised in Spain. Finally, in 2016, the Florida Supreme Court overturned the 2000 sentence for two reasons; firstly, because he had had an ineffective defense counsel during that trial, and secondly, because the court concluded that Pablo had been convicted on the basis of scarce and feeble evidence precisely because he had had an ineffective defense counsel. Hence, the Supreme Court ordered a re-trial that was held in 2018-2019. Also in 2016, the US Supreme Court ruled that all verdicts in capital cases had to be unanimous, which places the jury of twelve lay members under enormous pressure.
The prosecution in this latest retrial used evidence that had already been used in the first trial with new expert reports on the shoe, the DNA of the shirt, the video, fingerprints, eyewitness testimony and testimony by detectives who had already testified in the first trial. The defense called witnesses who had been interrogated by detective Manzella, DNA experts, an expert on eyewitness recognition, and an expert on facial recognition. Just before the trial, the judge established a criterion that the jury should have no knowledge of the judicial history of Pablo´s case. As a consequence, the jury was prevented from knowing that Seth Peñalver had been acquitted in 2012. As regards DNA, a minimal trace of DNA was found on the shirt that had a partial match with Ibar´s DNA. That minimum trace was in all certainty a contamination, as the trace had all the typical characteristics of such cases and because the T-shirt had been delivered to the forensic lab in a partially-opened paper envelope and the chain of custody had been compromised. It is also noteworthy that there had always been a large amount of DNA from the victims and two unidentified males on that T-shirt. If Pablo had cleaned his sweat with it, as the perpetrator visibly did in the video, considerable amounts of his DNA should have been found on it. This was not the case. Interestingly, in all these years the authorities have not carried out any investigations to determine who that DNA belongs to. Both the expert brought by the defense and the lab technician brought by the prosecution asserted that the partial match did not meet international standards to be considered as proof that that T-shirt had been worn by Pablo. Furthermore, new tests carried out with recent methodology revealed that the footprint could have been made with the shoe in question, although in all previous trials and appeals this possibility had been ruled out. Note that the analysis of footprints is not a considered a science but only merely a forensic discipline. The fingerprint and hair tests were negative.
In terms of testimonies, what was uncovered in the 2018-19 trial regarding former detective Manzella’s work is very revealing. He contradicted himself on numerous occasions, having first stated that eyewitness Foy was recorded during the lineup, but this was not the case, which made it impossible to evaluate his reactions during such procedures.
The lineups were designed and implemented by detective Scarlett but were flawed. According to Gary L. Wells, a world-renowned psychologist and scholar, eyewitness Gary Foy had described the two people he saw leaving the victims’ house as scruffy and unshaved. In the lineup, there were only two people among the six who were unshaven, one of them being Pablo. In addition, people who did not at all resemble the perpetrator seen in the video were included in the lineup. As if this were not enough, the live lineup was not carried out with the same people as the photographic lineup. The judge prevented the defense from presenting expert opinions in terms of eyewitness recognition who could relativize Foy´s memories after the crime, because his story was based on a seeing the perpetrators looking in the rearview mirror in front of a red traffic light for a short period of time. Both his car and the victim’s car had tainted windows, which made it difficult to be able to recognize people sitting in the car behind.
Witness Jay Taylor asserted in court on 10.01.2019 that the former detective Manzella had threatened him to assert that the person in the photograph was Pablo, but he flatly refused. Ibar’s mother could not be asked on her interview by Manzella because she had died some years ago. In addition, it was learned in the 2018-19 trial that Manzella did not follow other clues that involved the mafia in the triple murder. Nor did he follow the trail of witness J. McGill who told him that he had participated in the burning of the victim’s car following his boss’ instructions. This witness was killed the day after his confession.
For the first time in 24 years, Manzella admitted in cross-examination and in front of the jury that the gun was not the weapon that had caused the death of the three victims. This fact is far from trivial because jurors are to come to a verdict based on what they see and hear in trial. In addition, two facial recognition experts –one of them the State’s- came to the conclusion that it could not be said that the perpetrator was Pablo due to the poor quality of the images and obvious differences in the shape of the eyebrows and face. Incomprehensibly in view of these facts, the prosecutor in his final plea urged the jury not to let Ibar get away with murder after showing the video again and again.
There is nothing new in the evidence against Ibar since 1994. On the contrary, some of it has vanished and the irregularities during the investigation of the case have become more evident than ever in court in the 2018-19 retrial. Therefore, why did the jury pronounce a unanimous guilty verdict in 2019? First, since 2016, all verdicts both inculpatory and acquittals are to be unanimous according to the afore-mentioned US Supreme Court ruling. This decision places the 12 jurors under enormous pressure to reach unanimous agreements. Secondly,American citizens are well aware that appeals and retrials are very costly and public money should not be wasted. In fact, Ibar’s term in prison has already cost over $ 800,000. Thirdly, the jury was unaware that the alleged co-defendant Seth Peñalver was acquitted in 2012. Finally, the prosecutor in his final plea told the jury not to be influenced by journalists outside the court, to ignore the expert opinions of foreign people with snobbish accents that had come to teach them lessons and, more importantly, that they should not let Ibar get away with murder. These four factors explain, perhaps, the decision of the jury. People used to European justice find all of this difficult to understand. It should be noted in passing that jurors get $ 35 per day to perform this duty but their employers are under no obligation to pay their wages for the days they take off for jury duty. Unfortunately, in a judicial system such as the American, injustice seems rampant because, almost nobody is ever condemned for perjury even though it is a punishable felony. Therefore, Klimeczko’s false testimony will, in all probability, not be investigated nor will former detective Manzella be investigated for bad practice. If the Florida Supreme Court ordered a re-trial on the basis of feeble and scant evidence, what should a court of law now do taking into account that some of that evidence has disappeared and no new evidence has been found? If Ibar is ever acquitted, the state will reimburse Pablo for damages caused only if he initiates a judicial process by paying his own attorneys. In that case, he would probably only get, and the end of a lengthy process, about $ 10 per day spent in jail, a total of about $ 87,000 for 24 years in prison.
If the 17,000 murders registered yearly in the US are processed as those Ibar has been accused of, there is no doubt that Hollywood movies about homicides and judicial investigations by brainy detectives are nothing other than fairy tales that have no connection with reality whatsoever. And something these films do not tell us is that there are over 160,000 prisoners condemned to life and death in US privately-owned prisons. This represents a buoyant business, the budget of which is four times as high as the budget of the Basque Government or five times as high as the military budged of Poland, for example. One issue that no one raises is that the two murderers are free 24 years after the crime. This is both decadent and perverse.
Spanish version HERE