Miami prosecutors drop manslaughter charge against man who killed brother with fatal push

02/12/2014 7:01 AM

02/12/2014 7:07 AM

After an evening of heavy drinking, Victor Luis and his brother got into an argument in a North Miami Beach alleyway. Victor pushed his sibling, who stumbled backward, slammed his head on the concrete and passed out.

Fifteen days later, Juan Carlos Luis died of head trauma at Jackson Memorial Hospital — and Victor was booked into jail for his brother’s death.

But Miami-Dade prosecutors this week dropped the manslaughter charge against Victor, 49, after his lawyers argued that the brother’s death should be deemed an “excusable homicide” – a rare legal way for someone to beat a criminal charge involving a death in Florida.

“Certainly, Mr. Luis never intended to kill or seriously injure his older brother,” said his lawyer, Rick Hermida. “Sometimes, accidents happen and horseplay escalates. And that was the case here.”

A spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office said on Tuesday: “Plain and simple, we could not refute the points brought up by the defense and we were left with no choice but to drop the case.”

While so-called “one-punch” slaying cases are rare, it is even rarer for a defendant to convince prosecutors or a jury that the slaying is “excusable.”

One recent example: In 2010, Miami police arrested Sosthene Louis, a homeless man with an extensive criminal record, after he punched a Boca Raton club-goer for refusing to give him a cigarette. The victim, Lisney Oliveira, hit his head on the sidewalk and died.

Louis wound up pleading guilty to manslaughter and was imprisoned for 22 months.

The North Miami Beach case began in July 2012, after brothers Victor and Juan Luis spent the night drinking. The two were in an alleyway behind Spinnaker’s Bar, playing loud music from a car, when Victor confronted his brother.

The reason: Juan had gone to Gulfstream Park earlier that day with friends and had not invited his younger brother.

The two began “wrestling,” according to a North Miami Beach police report. “Both brothers were intoxicated and talking gibberish in Spanish,” one friend told police.

At one point, Victor picked up Juan and carried him through the alley. During the scrum, Victor “became upset because he felt as though his brother was treating him like a kid,” and when Juan “got in his face,” he pushed him to the ground using both hands.

When Juan remained on the ground, Victor began yelling for onlookers to call 911. He asked for water and ice to help revive his brother.

“He asked God to take his life for his brother’s life,” a police detective wrote in a report. “Victor said he also promised to stop drinking, if God spared his brother’s life.”

Victor, an drug and alcohol addict who has been in and out of rehab programs, told police “if he goes to prison if his brother dies, that he would take his own life.”

The swelling of the brain was so great that doctors had to remove a portion of Juan’s skull to relieve the pressure. Nevertheless, he died more than two weeks later.

The case lingered in the court system for nearly two years.

Victor’s lawyer, in a motion filed in January, pointed to a portion of the law that defines an excusable homicide as committed “by accident and misfortune in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation, or upon a sudden combat, without any dangerous weapon being used and not done in a cruel and unusual manner.”

Defense lawyer Hermida pointed to an appeals court decision from 1983, when a man named Donald Aiken, caught digging through the dumpster behind a Miami supermarket, got into a pushing match with a local resident. Aiken pushed the man with a milk crate; he fell and fatally fractured his skull on the ground.

Prosecutors charged Aiken with second-degree murder and a jury convicted on manslaughter. The Third District Court of Appeals reversed the conviction – giving Victor Luis ammo to challenge his arrest more than three decades later.

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