Jurors returned a guilty verdict on manslaughter charges against a man who allegedly fired shots into a sofa on New Year's Eve that resulted in the death of a 11 year-old boy. Prosecutors alleged that the defendant fired shots into an abandoned sofa, not knowing that the victim was hiding behind it at the time the shots were fired. The defendant fired at least 14 shots with 5 of them striking the victim. One of the bullets pierced the victim's aorta causing him to bleed to death. The jury was out for about one hour before they returned the guilty verdict. The Miami criminal lawyers representing Zenon Fernandez expressed disappointment with the jury's conclusion.
To prove the allegation of manslaughter, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant caused the death of another through culpable negligence. Manslaughter and pre-meditated 1st degree murder or second degree murder vary in one important way. In the latter two offenses, the prosecution must prove that the killing was intentional rather than by negligence. Culpable negligence is defined as more than a failure to use ordinary care, but rather the negligence must be gross and flagrant. The course of conduct must demonstrate a wanton and reckless disregard for human life, or for the safety of persons exposed to its dangerous effects, or for the safety and welfare of the general public.
The basic manslaughter charge is a second degree felony punishable up to fifteen years in prison. However, the Florida Statutes provide for the charge of aggravated manslaughter. Aggravated manslaughter is a first degree felony punishable up to 30 years in prison. Manslaughter becomes aggravated manslaughter when a certain type of victim lost his or her life. Victims that will lead to an enhancement include the elderly, disabled adults, persons under the age of 18, or police officers, firefighters, medical technicians or paramedics acting in the course of their duties. The defendant in this case is facing aggravated manslaughter because the victim was 14 years of age.
The sentencing hearing for the defendant will occur in about two months once the department of probation conducts a pre-sentence investigation. The court, the prosecutors and defense counsel will use the pre-sentence investigation report as a tool at the hearing. The court will consider the defendant's prior record before imposing sentence. Conservatively, the judge will sentence the defendant somewhere in the 7 year range. However, the sentence will largely be dictated by the decedent's families input at the defendant's hearing. In cases where death resulted, the victim's family has a lot of influence in determining a sentence either by way of plea or at sentencing.