He spent 14 years, 10 of them on death row, and on Monday, Florida prosecutors announced they would not proceed with a retrial for Clemente Javier Aguirre for the murder of two people in 2004.
An immigrant from Honduras with no criminal history, Aguirre was convicted of killing his former neighbors, Cheryl Williams and her mother, Carole Bareis, and was sentenced to death in 2006.
His conviction was unanimously overturned by the Florida Supreme Court in 2016, based on new evidence that was never presented to the jury, including “DNA testing of multiple pieces of crime scene evidence that exculpated Aguirre and implicated another suspect—the victims’ daughter and granddaughter, Samantha Williams,” the Innocence Project, which represented Aguirre, said in a statement. The Innocence Project also said the state supreme court learned that after Aguirre’s conviction, Williams had confessed the crime to several friends and acquaintances.
In spite of the new evidence and the fact that the 38-year-old Aguirre had maintained his innocence from the time he was arrested, the state attorney had announced his office would not only retry Aguirre, but would also again seek the death penalty. Monday’s decision to drop all charges “came after additional evidence undermining Williams’ alibi and further implicating her emerged in recent pretrial proceedings,” according to the Innocence Project.
“Mr. Aguirre was nearly executed for a crime he didn’t commit,” the Innocence Project’s Joshua Dubin, one of Aguirre’s lead trial attorneys, stated. “While we are overjoyed that his ordeal is finally over, the case of Clemente Aguirre should serve as a chilling cautionary tale about how dangerous it is when there is a rush to judgment in a capital case.”
Aguirre’s troubles aren’t over, however. While he is free on bond, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has placed an immigration hold on him, raising the possibility that he will be deported because he is undocumented, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
“If there were ever a person that deserved a chance to become a United States citizen, it is Clemente Aguirre,” Dubin told the paper.