Perez guilty of manslaughter in stabbing death
Ronnie Perez’s testimony wasn’t enough to convince jurors of his innocence in the stabbing death of William Lowell, but the evidence presented at trial couldn’t convince them what Perez did to Lowell in June of 2007 was murder, either.
A three-man, three-woman Lee County jury found Perez guilty of manslaughter after two hours of deliberations Friday afternoon, on day four of Perez’s second-degree murder trial.
Perez allegedly stabbed and cut Lowell 33 times, with a knife Lowell had used the previous day to clean fish, during a confrontation in the garage of Lowell’s home June 22. Though accounts of the hours leading up to and after Lowell’s death vary — including differences between Perez’s testimony versus his initial statements to Cape Coral detectives — the ultimate affect was two stab wounds through Lowell’s left lung and heart which ended his life.
If found guilty of murder, Perez would have faced a life prison sentence.
Manslaughter, a lesser included crime, carries a significantly shorter maximum possible sentence of 15 years in prison.
Both state and defense attorneys said they were pleased with the jury’s decision, given the possible alternatives of either acquittal or a life sentence.
“Obviously I was pushing for a not guilty, but the jury heard the evidence, they saw it all and made a decision, and I can’t complain about it,” said Lee Hollander, Perez’s defense attorney. “I understand how they reached that conclusion. I don’t believe there was the hatred and ill-will that’s required for second-degree murder. I do think (jurors) may have thought that (Perez) went a little overboard when defending himself, and that does constitute manslaughter.”
Lead prosecutor Ed Ferguson said simply, “I’m very pleased with the verdict.”
Family members and friends of both Lowell and Perez, however, were not as pleased.
Lowell’s relatives, including wife Tanya Lowell, said they were “very disappointed” in the conclusion jurors reached Friday.
Several of Lowell’s and Perez’s family members were visibly upset following the reading of the verdict.
Perez had taken the witness stand in his own defense earlier that morning, telling his side of the story through a court-appointed English-Spanish translator.
Perez told jurors he and Lowell were friends, that they drank and used drugs together.
The early morning of June 22 was when that friendship went bad — a night of drinking and cocaine use Perez said led to sexual battery, threats at gunpoint and a knife fight.
The two were watching a pornographic DVD in the living room when Lowell, who allegedly had been snorting cocaine, became sexual with Perez, he said. Perez denied using cocaine that night due to feeling sick.
“He started touching me here as if I was a woman,” Perez testified, indicating Lowell touched him on the side of his buttocks. “I pushed his hand, because I thought he was just kidding around.”
Lowell left the couch and returned with a gun, forcing Perez to perform oral sex, Perez told the jury. Perez broke free and ran, leading Lowell to the garage where a fight ensued and Perez armed himself with a knife, he said.
Perez said he had broken a 40-ounce beer bottle over Lowell’s head in self-defense and tried to convince him to go to the hospital, but as the fight progressed, he ended up cutting and stabbing Lowell all across his body, including two fatal wounds to his left lung and his heart.
The alleged gun Lowell had used was dropped and lost during the scuffle in an area of the garage police testified they didn’t search, Perez said.
However, Perez’s statements to Cape Det. Kurt Grau the day Lowell was killed weren’t the same as those he made on the witness stand, testimony indicated. He had not told Grau about the alleged physical and sexual assault in the living room involving a firearm, and he told the detective that the drug use and sexual activities between he and Lowell were mutual.
Ferguson told the jury Friday whether or not Lowell had a gun was moot since he wasn’t armed at the time he was killed.
“He had no weapon at the time he was being stabbed to death,” Ferguson said during his closing arguments. “(William) Lee Lowell was fighting for his life and he was losing. Ladies and gentlemen, this is murder, this isn’t a fair fight, this isn’t two men squabbling. Police may have, if they’d done a hard inventory of the garage, found a gun. It doesn’t make any difference because it was removed from the struggle … before (Perez) acted to kill.”
Perez lacked any serious wounds, other than a bite to his thumb, to indicate the vicious fight on the floor of the garage he’d testified to, Ferguson said.
Hollander argued forensic investigators were sloppy and ignored the central area of Lowell’s garage where boxes and bags of things were stacked, and where Perez said Lowell’s gun had fallen to.
“If it wasn’t in the open, they weren’t looking for it,” he said. “I submit to you the shortcomings of the forensics investigators constitute a reasonable doubt.”
Further, Hollander said it was wrong that the state should expect Perez to stop defending himself with a knife when Lowell dropped the alleged gun.
“There’s no referee, there’s no one to flip a switch,” he said. “Human nature just isn’t that way.”
The jury was given the case at 12:42 p.m. and returned with a unanimous verdict at approximately 2:30 p.m.
Perez will be sentenced by Lee Circuit Judge Edward Volz March 9.