Decision expected on plea deal withdrawal
A judge will determine Monday whether to grant a request from one of the alleged Cash Feenz defendants to have his plea deal withdrawn.
Paul Nunes pleaded guilty in August for a reduced sentence in the 2006 Cape Coral double murder of Alexis and Jeffrey Sosa. As part of his plea deal with the state, Nunes would testify against his co-defendants to receive 40 years in prison on two counts each of second-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated battery and one count of arson.
During a court appearance Monday, Nunes requested that his plea deal be withdrawn. Twentieth Judicial Circuit Judge Thomas S. Reese, who is presiding over the case, decided that he would determine at a future hearing whether he would accept Nunes’ plea withdrawal.
According to judicial assistant Terry Mockler, Reese will also consider the possibility of assigning new counsel to Nunes on Monday.
Attorney David M. Peckins, who has been representing Nunes, did not return a telephone message seeking comment Wednesday.
Under the plea deal, Nunes is required to testify against co-defendants Kemar Johnston and Kenneth Lopez. Lopez is set to go to trial Feb.1, while jury selection for Johnston’s trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday.
State Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Samantha Syoen said Wednesday that prosecutors had not released their witness list yet. When questioned by Reese on Monday as to whether the state would call Nunes as a witness in Johnston’s trial, prosecutors answered that they had not decided.
“We have not decided whether to use him as a witness yet,” Syoen said.
She added that Nunes’ motion to withdrawal his plea deal “will not directly impact the Kemar Johnston trial.”
Fort Myers attorney David A. Brener, who is representing Johnston, explained Wednesday that Nunes may not see the plea deal withdrawn.
“He has a high burden to try and have his plea withdrawn,” he said. “Of course, I can’t predict what the judge will do, but I don’t see that happening.
“If that doesn’t happen, I assume he’s going to change his mind again and testify in order to get a lesser sentence,” Brener said. “If it does happen, and his motion is granted, I would think he would refuse to further testify.”
Brener questioned the testimony of witnesses who enter into plea deals.
“Mr. Nunes is one of a long list of witnesses whose testimony has been bought and paid for by the state with the currency of liberty, and even the currency of life,” he said. “When someone is facing the realistic possibility of a death penalty, and they are encouraged to incriminate someone else in exchange for a sentence to a term of years, there’s always a great risk that that testimony is false and not credible.”
Brener said Wednesday that he would not discuss Johnston’s case nor the approaching trial, citing protracted media attention. He added that he has filed for a change of venue for the trial, along with an amended motion within the last few months, due to the pretrial publicity and plea agreements.
Ten people were arrested and charged in the slayings of Alexis, 18, and Jeffrey, 14, Sosa. The Sosas were tied up and tortured at Johnston’s home, then taken to a north Cape industrial site where they were shot and Alexis was burned in the trunk of a car, according to officials.
Roderick Washington and Ashley Toye were found guilty following separate trials. Washington received four consecutive life sentences plus 30 years in prison, and Toye was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Melissa Rivera, Iriana Santos, Alexis Fernandez, Cody Roux and Michael Balint have each pleaded guilty to lesser crimes and will receive prison sentences varying between 14 years and 26 years in exchange for their testimony.