State prosecutors filed court papers Friday waiving the death penalty as a possible sentence for Ernesto Mireles, a Bonita Springs man charged with the robbery and murder of an East Naples grocery store owner. Mireles, 25, is scheduled for trial July 10 in Collier Circuit Court. Prosecutors had offered lesser prison sentences for Mireles’ co-defendants but had intended to seek the death penalty for him if he was convicted. Assistant State Attorney Mike Provost filed the notice of waiver of the death penalty Friday. He wouldn’t comment on why.
“You’ll have to come to the trial,” Provost said. Mireles is accused of shooting Latin American grocery owner Isis Laffitte in the neck in April 2002. Mireles and three others were charged with robbing the store off U.S. 41 East. He still could face life imprisonment if he’s convicted. One of Mireles’ Fort Myers attorneys, David A. Brener, said Friday that Mireles is mentally retarded. Testing in second grade put his IQ at 60, which is well below the average IQ of 100. “I’d like to say we did our job and persuaded him death was not appropriate in this case,” Brener said. “But even without the death penalty this is still a very serious case. Life in prison is no picnic.”
Brener said co-defendant testimony often is suspect and has to be backed up by strong evidence. In this case, one co-defendant went to trial and lost, ending in a life sentence. So he won’t testify. Two others agreed to lesser prison terms, but one, Baldomero Nuñez, has refused to testify and is backing out of the deal with the prosecution. He’ll be tried on the armed robbery and murder charges, Brener said. In their defense of Mireles, Brener and co-counsel John Mills have filed more than 35 motions in the case. Most had to do with capital punishment, and the two attorneys made clear they would aggressively defend Mireles against the death penalty. Mireles’ widower, Gus, was unavailable for comment Friday on the decision. Provost said he informed Laffitte of the decision earlier Friday.
Nuñez agreed to a 40-year prison sentence to escape a possible death sentence. An attorney appointed by the court to advise him of the need to testify if he wants to keep his plea agreement did so, Provost said, and apparently didn’t sway Nuñez into testifying.Mireles, Nuñez, his brother, Salvador, and Oscar Luna made off with a few thousand dollars in the April 17, 2002, robbery, according to testimony in Salvador Nuñez’s trial. Laffitte was shot when she followed the men outside to swipe the money away. She confronted Mireles, who was holding the bag, and was shot in the neck.