A man who was convicted in 2003 in the death of a Carol City secretary by injecting her buttocks with industrial-grade silicone during a so-called "pumping party" is expected to walk out of prison.
Mark Hawkins, half of the duo who performed the illegal injections, was handed a 30-year prison sentence in November 2003 in Broward Circuit Court for his role in the death of Vera Lawrence, who wanted to enhance her buttocks.
But the Fourth District Court of Appeal on Wednesday reversed his conviction, ruling that the medical examiner could not prove the silicone caused the woman's death.
Defense attorney Eric Schwartzreich said Hawkins, 41, should be released soon from Lake Correctional Institution near Clermont.
"He started crying," Schwartzreich said of his client upon hearing the news. "He said he would always be sorry for what happened to Vera Lawrence, but he wasn't the one who killed her."
Lawrence's daughter, 40-year-old Tangela Sears, a well-known Miami-Dade black activist, sobbed Wednesday.
"I don't know what to think," she said. "I'm still trying to bring closure to my mama's death. I feel like I've been banged against a wall."
Lawrence had been receiving injections for months prior to her death on March 20, 2001, raising the possibility that it was an accumulation of silicone in her body that was to blame, testimony during the trial showed.
Hawkins lived with Donnie "Viva" Hendrix in Greenville, S.C., and traveled to Miramar for the pumping parties, which South Florida's male transvestite community favored to feminize their features.
Lawrence died in the Miramar apartment of a friend of Sears' brother, a transvestite named Corey "Cookie" Williams, who accepted a plea deal that got him probation in exchange for testimony in the case.
Hawkins may be resentenced in Broward court for the lesser charge of practicing medicine without a license, but he will not spend more time behind bars. The maximum sentence for the reduced charge is five years - time Hawkins has already served, his attorney said.
Hawkins told Schwartzreich that he wants to reunite with Hendrix, who was sentenced by a separate jury in July 2003 to five years for practicing medicine without a license for his role in the Lawrence case.
Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said Hendrix was released from Tomoka Correctional Institution near Daytona Beach in November.
Dr. Erston Price, the associate medical examiner in Broward who testified in Lawrence's case, would not speak about the case Wednesday. Price is now chief medical examiner in Palm Beach County.
According to the ruling, Price said there were "innumerable needle marks" on Lawrence's body, some of which appeared to date from before the night of her death, while others were fresh and oozing blood.
Price, in testifying for the prosecution, described Lawrence's organs as "oily" and said the woman had suffered from "massive systematic silicone embolism."
Price explained Lawrence's death by saying that because she had been injected in the subcutaneous tissue of her buttocks, her capillaries broke, and silicone traveled into her bloodstream.
The appeals court believes that Price's findings were inconclusive.
Dr. Ronald Wright, the former chief medical examiner for Miami-Dade and Broward counties, contradicted Price's theory, saying that Lawrence died from "chronic systemic emboli which occurred over time."
"I have a lot of questions," Sears said. "This isn't justice."