Former death row inmate alleges biased probe in lawsuit

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A former death row inmate who was in prison for 14 years before prosecutors dropped charges that he murdered two neighbors sued a Florida sheriff's office Tuesday, accusing it of conducting a biased and negligent investigation that led to his wrongful arrest and conviction.

Clemente Aguirre-Jarquin filed the civil lawsuit in federal court against the Seminole County Sheriff's Office.

“Clemente’s nightmare was the direct result of the failure of the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office to conduct a constitutionally adequate investigation, free of ethnic stereotypes and false assumptions," the lawsuit said.

Bob Kealing, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, said he was unable to comment because the office's legal team hadn't yet seen the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, the sheriff's office ignored evidence implicating a woman who was the daughter of one of the victims and the granddaughter of the other. The victims, Cheryl Williams and Carol Bareis, were found stabbed to death in their home in an Orlando suburb in 2004. Williams had 129 stab wounds.

The previous evening, Williams had a “ranting and raving” argument with her daughter, Samantha Williams, who had a long history of mental illness and related violence, the lawsuit said.

Aguirre, a neighbor and undocumented worker from Honduras, found the bodies just hours after the slayings.

Instead of focusing on Samantha Williams, investigators “motivated consciously or unconsciously by their bias against undocumented immigrants from countries in Central America, focused instead on Clemente, who had found the bodies of Cheryl and Carol when he went to their trailer early that morning," the lawsuit said.

Samantha Williams was a key witness at Aguirre's trial, and he was sentenced to death in 2006.

After Aguirre's conviction, his attorneys, including lawyers from the Innocence Project, asked to have crime scene blood samples tested, and the results showed blood at key locations belonged to Samantha Williams, the lawsuit said.

In 2016, the Florida Supreme Court vacated Aguirre's convictions and sent the case back for a new trial. During a deposition of Samantha Williams, she conceded that she may have killed her mother and grandmother but blocked out the memory, the lawsuit said.

The state attorney's office initially sought to retry Aguirre, but prosecutors eventually dismissed the case in 2018 and he was released from prison. Aguirre is seeking asylum in the United States.

“Clemente Aguirre’s incarceration should have never occurred," the lawsuit said.

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