Man sentenced to death for vicious murder of elderly Little Havana woman

For viciously stabbing an elderly Little Havana woman to death, Victor Guzman must be executed, a Miami-Dade judge ruled Thursday.

The sentence comes seven months after a jury convicted Guzman for the December 2000 killing of 80-year-old Severina Dolores “Lola” Fernandez, found naked and stabbed 58 times in her Little Havana apartment.

Miami-Dade prosecutors say Guzman knocked on her door after seeing Fernandez fetch a newspaper outside of her home. Guzman cut himself on the slippery, blood-soaked knife as he attacked — leaving crucial DNA evidence at the scene.

Two years later, the same DNA turned up in the rape of a 12-year-old girl in Miami Beach.

But the identity of the attacker was not known until 2004, when Guzman’s DNA was entered into a state database after he violated probation in a case of lewd conduct involving a minor.

By a 7-5 vote, jurors in the murder case recommended a death sentence. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy followed suit Thursday, but not before allowing Guzman one last chance to plea for mercy.

“I have to pay the consequences, but for the past 10 years, I’ve done good things. I’ve helped many families,” said Guzman, 40, who says he started a Christian ministry while in jail.

“I don’t want to justify myself. I’m willing to pay the consequences. But if granted the opportunity to remain alive, I could be a blessing to many people.”

Guzman admitted he’d made “errors” in his life.

“These weren’t errors. These were crimes,” Fernandez’s niece, Isabel Reyes, said afterward. “He needs to pay for what he did.”

After the sentence was announced, Reyes, 62, pumped her first and burst into tears. She embraced and thanked prosecutors Scott Warfman and Penny Brill.

Reyes remembered Fernandez as a sweet woman who never had kids and lived in the same apartment since coming to Miami from Cuba in 1972. Adept at sewing, Fernandez created clothes for clients and was also a creature of habit — eating ice cream and finishing her crossword puzzle every day.

“She was such a good woman,” Reyes said.

Guzman is the fourth person sent to Death Row from Miami-Dade since 2010. The others: Tavares Calloway, who killed five people in a drug rip-off; Ana Maria Cardona, convicted for murdering her infant son; and Joel Lebron, who kidnapped, raped and fatally shot a South Miami High teen.

Prosecutors urged the death penalty for Guzman because of the “heinous, atrocious and cruel” nature of the crime, plus the earlier sexual attack on the 12-year-old girl.

His defense lawyers asked for life in prison, saying Guzman was an alcoholic who had a stormy upbringing in his native Peru. His lawyers also believed that the narrow jury vote — one away from a life-sentence tie — shows Florida’s death penalty scheme is illegal.

“The vote was very close and we believe that if Supreme Court law was applicable, we would have gotten a life verdict,” attorneys Bruce Fleisher and Charles White said in a statement.

Unlike in most states, Florida jurors do not to reach a unanimous decision for the death penalty, but their vote for execution is only a recommendation. Judges, however, almost always follow the jury recommendation.

Judge Murphy himself overrode a jury’s 8-4 vote for a man convicted in 2010 of murdering a Coconut Grove tourist during a robbery. He didn’t do the same Monday.

Read more Miami-Dade stories from the Miami Herald

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