Court Cases

Brener Keeps Tattoo Evidence Out Of Trial by Unknown

Ernesto Mireles has a tattoo on his neck that the prosecutor hopes the jury will see when Mireles goes on trial for murder.

For now the judge says no. But if Assistant State Attorney Mike Provost can make the argument the bullet hole tattooed on the neck of Mireles, 25, is relevant, the jury may consider it as evidence of guilt. Specifically, it’s a confession to the crime, Provost argued Tuesday in a hearing before Senior Circuit Judge William Blackwell. The tattoo is on the side of Mireles’ neck. He is charged with killing Isis Laffitte by shooting her to death in the side of the neck. “This defendant, through his gang affiliations, is proud, for lack of a better word. It’s sort of like a notch in his gun,” Provost said in the hearing. “What other conclusion can I draw, or the jury draw, besides that this is an admission that he’s the shooter in this case?”

Mireles, of Bonita Springs, could face the death penalty or life imprisonment if he’s convicted in his July 11 trial. He didn’t have the tattoo when he was arrested July 25, 2002, three months after the robbery and shooting of Laffitte at the Latin American Grocery Store in East Naples. Provost said the tattoo was discovered in December 2003. He believes it’s evidence of guilt, and possibly a lack of remorse. But one of Mireles’ attorneys, David A. Brener, argued the prosecutor can’t prove that. “Pure speculation, that’s my response,” Brener said. Brener pointed out it’s on the other side of Mireles’ neck from Laffitte’s wound. Mireles didn’t speak at the hearing, so there was no disclosure of what the tattoo means. And the attorney put forward an alternate theory of why Mireles got the tattoo. When Mireles was a child, he saw his father get shot in the neck and killed, Brener told the judge. The tattoo may have been a sort of tribute.

“Not only was the defendant 5 or 6 years old when his father was shot, but the defendant was standing right next to him and was a witness to the shooting,” Brener said. The judge barred any mention of the tattoo in front of the jury unless Provost asks the court to reconsider the matter after the trial starts. Blackwell also ruled the jury won’t hear about a second tattoo that Provost may seek to have entered into evidence against Mireles.

On the other side of Mireles’ neck are the letters L and K and a crown. Provost said that’s a well-known logo of a street gang, the Latin Kings. Provost said he’ll have to research whether gang affiliation by itself can be considered an aggravating factor if Mireles is convicted. The jury considers aggravating and mitigating factors and decides whether to recommend life or death as a sentence. The prosecutor may have to show the robbery and shooting were gang-related before the jury can consider the tattoo. As yet there’s been no evidence of that. Mireles and three other men were charged with the death of Laffitte, 66, during the robbery. Mireles is accused of being the shooter, pulling the trigger after Laffitte yelled “thief” at the men and tried to grab the bag of money from him.

Co-defendants Baldomero Nuñez and Oscar Luna, both of whom pleaded no contest and received reduced prison terms in exchange for their cooperation with the prosecution, are expected to testify against Mireles. A third co-defendant, Salvador Nuñez, went to trial, lost and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Judge Blackwell considered several other motions in the case Tuesday. In the most significant decision, he ruled against a defense request to bar the death penalty as a possible sentence. Brener had cited a federal case that the Florida Supreme Court already has ruled doesn’t apply to Florida’s death penalty system.

“Asking me to rule that way is tantamount to asking me to overrule the Florida Supreme Court, and I don’t think I can do that,” Blackwell said.