Washington’s retrial begins with witness testimony
One by one, familiar faces took the stand Thursday to testify about the night Jeffrey and Alexis Sosa were terrorized and murdered.
Eyewitnesses, co-defendants and police painted a picture for the second time of the 2006 beating, torture and double slaying, allegedly at the hands of a rap group called the “Cash Feenz,” during the first day of Roderick Washington’s retrial.
Washington, one of 10 accused in the killings, faces life in prison if convicted of two counts each of first-degree murder and kidnaping.
He was found guilty of two counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon in May and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. The jury could not reach a decision on the remaining four counts and a mistrial was declared.
“These young teens, Jeffrey and Alexis Sosa, were tied up, beat, Tasered, carved with knives, bleach was poured into their wounds and onto their faces. They were shot, killed and eventually set on fire,” Assistant State Attorney Marie Doerr said during opening statements. “This is a case that starts out a mob mentality, peer pressure at its ugliest.”
Doerr described a night of drugs, alcohol and brutal violence at the birthday party of co-defendant Kemar Johnston.
The Sosas’ deaths were the result of the cooperation of many individuals acting together, one of whom was Washington, she said.
Defense Attorney Paul Sullivan agreed that a heinous crime had occurred, but argued the evidence cannot prove the details of Washington’s involvement beyond a reasonable doubt.
Part of what makes the evidence unreliable, he said, are witnesses who had either been intoxicated the night of the killings or had received plea bargains from the state.
“What else happened that night?” Sullivan asked the jury. “Who did what? Who poured bleach on these poor kids? Who hit somebody with a gun? Who did this, who did that, who did what, when?
“All of that evidence is locked up in the heads of young people whose minds were messed up on drugs and alcohol that night, who’ve told lie after lie after lie,” he said.
Those who attended Johnston’s birthday party recalled Washington holding the Sosas at gunpoint while they were tortured and driving out to a north Cape Coral industrial park where the Sosas were fatally shot.
William Arciszewski, who attended the party and produced rap music for the Cash Feenz, said a cell phone voice message sparked the violence toward Jeffrey and Alexis when they came to the party.
“It was like when they showed up you could hear a pin drop,” he said. “They started beating them. I could hear plates breaking and everything.”
Arciszewski said that from his hiding place in Johnston’s bathroom, he heard a gunshot and Alexis pleading for his life as his back was carved with knives.
“I recall very vividly,” he said. “It’s one of the things that sticks out the most in my mind, Jeffrey Sosa begging for his life. He said, ‘I have a lot to live for, don’t kill me.'”
Arciszewski recalled seeing the Sosas carried out of Johnston’s home through the garage area, and that Alexis had a black bag covering his head.
Several individuals, including Washington and co-defendants Paul Nunez, Kenneth Lopez, Iriana Santos and Melissa Rivera, left Johnston’s home with the Sosas and later returned after Jeffrey and Alexis had been killed, he said.
“There’s no nice way to put it,” Arciszewski said. “(The Sosas) were taken out like they were trash. They were taken out like they didn’t matter.”
He said he was afraid that if he left Johnston’s home or called the police he would be killed. Arciszewski told the jury that the Cash Feenz transformed from a rap group into a violent lifestyle, which he rejected.
“It’s like they began living the music they made,” he said. “To me, music is expression. They overdid it.”
Sullivan attempted to disprove that Arciszewski disapproved of the lifestyle by discussing an Internet picture of him holding a gun and a rap album of Arciszewski’s called “Enemy of the State” with explicit lyrics.
Arciszewski said his lifestyle has changed and he no longer associates with the Cash Feenz.
Co-defendants Michael Balint, Melissa Rivera and Iriana Santos have taken the stand. All three said Washington held either a handgun or a rifle on the Sosas at various times throughout the evening as they were tortured.
Balint, Rivera and Santos have stricken plea deals with the state for lighter sentences in exchange for their testimony against their co-defendants.
Balint, who hogtied Alexis with shoelaces, said he saw Washington holding a gun prior to leaving Johnston’s home.
“He was poking them in the ribs with it, telling them not to move and stuff,” Balint told the jury.
Rivera and Santos, who said they were active participants in the assault on the Sosas, testified to Washington having held a gun throughout the night and going to the industrial site where the Sosas were killed.
Sullivan questioned how Rivera could recall Washington being armed, but could not recall whether he held a rifle or handgun. She also could not describe the knife or Taser she allegedly used on Alexis.
Rivera said she did not remember that night, only what she had read from a recent statement to state attorneys.
Cape Coral detective Kurt Grau and forensics supervisor Larry Stringham discussed evidence they found at the industrial site and Johnston’s home, including bullets and casings, a handgun, shoe prints, tire tracks and a comforter with the DNA of Alexis.
Washington’s trial continues today at 9 a.m. and will likely continue through early next week.