Cesar Limas made his living by selling cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana. Yet he became the prosecutor’s key witness in a first degree murder trial that led to fourteen months of jail time for Carlos Hiracheta Perez, 29, of Dade City pending trial.
Limas told police that he and another man wrestled a Colt .45 semi-automatic pistol away from Perez outside an abandoned house in Dade City after two shots were fired inside the house.
Within the residence lay the motionless body of Arturo Escamilla. Limas told Sheriff’s deputies that after he grabbed the gun away from Perez, the suspect ran from the scene. Perez was apprehended afterward, and detained by Dade City police officers. He was later charged with attempted first degree murder and held without bail at the Pasco County Jail. The charges were elevated to first degree murder when Escamilla died the following day at Bayonet Point Hospital as a result of his injuries that took place in mid-May of last year.
Based on the arrest affidavit, Perez got into an argument with Escamilla inside the house leading prosecutors to contend that Perez was the person who gravely injured Escamilla when he shot him twice in the head.
However, at trial, the advocate for Perez placed doubt on Mr. Limas’s testimony pointing out contradictions in his original statement to police, as well as a lack of any evidence directly attributing Perez to being the shooter.
The assistant public defender argued that at the time of the shooting there were five men inside the abandoned house including Perez and Limas. Perez maintained that he was sleeping on a couch and ran when two gunshots rang out, believing he was running for his life. After Perez sprinted out of the house first, four more men followed and hopped into a vehicle and raced away. This was corroborated by neighbors who witnessed the events unfold. This contradicted Limas’s original statement to police that he and another man disarmed Perez.
A photograph of Limas was also revealed in possession of a .45-caliber handgun that was taken a few days prior to the shooting which more than likely could have been the gun that killed Escamilla. Additionally, members of Escamilla’s family stated that he never had any problems with Perez, but often had battles and heated disagreements with all of the other men in the group who all rushed out of the previously vacated dwelling after the shots were fired, including the prosecution’s central witness.
Perez’s court appointed attorney described to jurors that based on the presentation of the prosecution’s case it appeared they had more evidence against their star witness than they did against his client, and placed doubt in their minds by establishing that any of the other four men could have been the actual trigger-man.
The jury’s deliberations took a little more than an hour when they returned to their seats with a unanimous verdict. Judge Pat Siracusa cautioned Perez and his family to remain passive and quiet regardless of what the results were prior to the reading of the verdict. And they did as instructed, because the silence was deafening when it was revealed that the finding of all jury members was not guilty.
When the outcome of the verdict became apparent to Perez’s mother, with the speaker of her cellphone activated she was overheard excitedly repeating the word “libre”. Translated from Spanish, the word libre simply means “free”.
She next saw her son walking down the corridor that led out of the courthouse, exiting through the sliding glass doors into the lobby where she, his sister and niece came together around him in a mutual hug ending Carlos’s fourteen month ordeal this past July.
In Pasco County, a not guilty outcome in a first degree murder case is uncommon. It had been almost four years since it previously occurred when Anthony Harris was exonerated for the first degree murder charge of killing a drug dealer in 2010.<!–