One-time Hollywood resident Pablo Ibar has been imprisoned on Florida's Death Row since 2000, after being convicted for the triple-murder of a bar owner and two female friends during a notorious home invasion more than two decades ago.
But Ibar's defense attorney blundered so badly by not calling an expert witness to challenge the prosecution’s evidence of his image on a home security video that he deserves a new trial, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
In a 5-2 decision, the high court concluded that the outcome of Ibar's trial for the 1994 murders might have been different if his lawyer had called the expert to dispute claims that Ibar’s image was on the grainy videotape recorded inside the Miramar home of the owner of the popular Casey's Nickelodeon.
“While there were numerous deficiencies in performance, the most salient was the failure of trial counsel to present a facial identification expert to explain the physical differences between Ibar and the perpetrator alleged to have been in the video,” the majority of justices wrote.
The justices added that Ibar’s defense attorney, Kayo Morgan, should have called the expert “to demonstrate that the quality of the images [was] so poor that they were inadequate to make a reliable identification.”
“Simply put, we cannot and do not have confidence in the outcome of this trial.”
Initially, Ibar and his co-defendant, Seth Penalver, were tried together in 1997. But after eight months of testimony, the Broward Circuit Court jury couldn't make a decision and a mistrial was declared.
Penalver was convicted at a separate trial in 1999 and sentenced to death — but his conviction was thrown out seven years later by the state Supreme Court based on numerous errors and he was acquitted at a new trial in 2012.
Ibar and Penalver were charged in the June 1994 murders of Sharon Anderson, 25, Marie Rogers, 25, and Casimir “Butch Casey” Sucharski, 48, who owned Casey's Nickelodeon in Pembroke Park.
The three were shot, execution-style, in the home-invasion robbery at Sucharski's plush and heavily secured home in Miramar.
Investigators said the killers probably targeted Sucharski, who was known to dabble in drugs and keep large amounts of cash in safes in the home. Anderson and Rogers happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
At Ibar’s sentencing in 2000, the judge recounted the gruesome details recorded inside Sucharski's home. Two armed invaders burst in, forced the three victims to lie face-down on the floor, robbed the house, then shot them all in the back of the head.
“This terror had lasted for 22 minutes and escalated each second through the last 22 minutes of their lives,” Circuit Judge Daniel True Andrews wrote in defense of the death penalty sentence.
But attorneys for the two men maintained that prosecutors never proved Ibar and Penalver were the ones on the videotape.
No physical evidence tied Ibar to the crime scene.
Before his sentencing, Ibar pleaded for his life: “Allow me to prove my innocence,” he told the judge, “because I am innocent.”