The Ledger reports that an appellate court in Lakeland, Florida has overturned the murder conviction of Alex Baez, a 27-year-old Clermont resident. He was convicted in October 2014 of the 2012 shooting death of an acquaintance. This court decision means that he will be granted a new trial.
The murder victim, Jose Manuel “Sugar Baby” Santos, 21, was discovered in a shallow grave five days after his death in Davenport.
On Friday, the Second District Court of Appeal ruled that the original trial judge, Circuit Judge Donald Jacobsen, should have allowed the testimony of a jailhouse informant who was incarcerated with Baez’s co-defendant, Charles Pandolfo.
The informant, Rico Cielo, testified in court that Pandolfo told him he had killed Santos, but Judge Jacobsen ruled he couldn’t tell jurors that Pandolfo told him that cops had the “wrong guy” and he had committed the perfect murder.
The high court’s decision stated that “because Baez was indeed arrested and charged for the murder, Charles (Pandolfo)’s statement that the police had the ‘wrong guy’ certainly tended to exculpate Baez.”
It went on to say “the statement was sufficiently inculpatory…because it was made in the context of Charles saying that he was going to get away with the perfect murder – thus implying that he was the one who committed the crime.”
The court also believed that Cielo’s statements and Baez’s defense were consistent. Baez’s lawyers argued that he was not involved in the shooting of Santos, but he did meet up with Pandolfo later in the evening.
Included in Cielo’s testimony was a very specific and detailed recounting of the crime, and at no time was there mention of another person being present during the shooting other than Pandolfo.
During trial, prosecutors argued that Baez believed Santos had abused his sister, thus providing motive for the murder. There were also cellular communications between the two men that suggested they were both involved in the crime submitted as evidence. The jury only deliberated for two hours before convicting Baez.
*Photo credit Suwannee Correctional Institution