A North Miami man committed no crime when he hurled a drunk-and-high passenger off a boat to his doom in the waters of Biscayne Bay, jurors decided Tuesday night.
Eulices Barrios, 39, was not guilty of manslaughter by culpable negligence in the July 4, 2010 death of Domingo Vilalata, who was shredded to death by the propellers of a nearby boat.
His body surfaced two days later.
Tuesdays verdict concluded a unique and legally thorny case in a South Florida community rich in boating culture.
This was a tragedy all around, but Eulices committed not crime and he should have never been charged, said defense attorney Ed O'Donnell IV, who tried the case with his father of the same name.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed on many of the details of the tragedy.
Barrios, a general contractor, had taken several people out on his 32-foot Stamas Express. The group, which included Vilalta and several young women, spent all afternoon drinking vodka and singing karaoke at a popular party sandbar in the Intracoastal Waterway near Oleta State Park.
Vilalta was drunk and smoked pot. Several of the girls also drank heavily.
Around 8 p.m., they were cruising to a dockside restaurant in North Bay Village when Barrios stopped the vessel in a busy waterway to fix some equipment, as one young woman jumped in the water.
Vilalta, 22, who was a friend of the women onboard, inexplicably sat in the captains seat and thrust the boats throttle, jerking the vessel forward. Another passenger tumbled overboard, falling in the waters near the boats churning propellers.
An angry Barrios rushed to shut off the engine and hurled Vilalta off the boat.
The question before jurors was whether that act was unreasonable.
There were options, said Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Chiaka Ihekwaba. She told jurors that Barrios could have confined the drunk man to the boats cabin, or even tied him up with rope to subdue him until they reached dry land.
But defense attorney Ed ODonnell said Vilalta was a danger, nearly killing the two women in the water.
Is it reasonable to say, Youre off the boat, pal? I think so, ODonnell told jurors.
Much of the legal scrutiny at trial focused on Barrios perceptions and the moments after Vilalta hit the water.
One young woman in the water swam to another nearby boat belonging to Barrios pal, Alberto Rodriguez.
Barrios claimed he signaled to Rodriguez to take on Vilalta, but Rodriguez testified that he never saw or heard Barrios.
One boat passenger said she saw Vilalta clinging to a metal clip, used for towing, affixed to the boats bow. Barrios saw that too, but later told detectives he believed the man had boarded the second boat safely.
Prosecutor Marie Mato pointed out that Barrios told police, I really didnt pay attention and I left, leaving Vilalta hanging on a dangerous spot where he was ultimately sucked under the boat and killed
Was it OK for the defendant to turn his back the minute he saw him there? Mato asked. Or should he have waited to make sure he got on safely?
But ODonnell insisted the case belonged in civil court as part of a lawsuit. He also suggested that Vilaltas boorish behavior pushing the boat throttle played a role in his death.
Maybe he thought it was funny. There wasnt anything funny about it, ODonnell said. If he hadnt done it, we wouldnt be here today.