Court Cases

Kemar Johnstons’s Jury recommends Life in Prison. Denes Husty III - Fort Myers News Press

Kemar Johnston’s jury recommends he be sentenced to life in prison. Members of Johnson’s family cracked faint smiles as the clerk read aloud the jury’s decision. Members of the Sosa family grimaced as they sat on the opposite side of the courtroom with little emotion.

4:44 p.m.

Kemar Johnston’s jury recommends he be sentenced to life in prison. Members of Johnson’s family cracked faint smiles as the clerk read aloud the jury’s decision. Members of the Sosa family grimaced as they sat on the opposite side of the courtroom with little emotion.

3:58 p.m. update

Lee Circuit Judge Thomas Reese has finished reading his instructions to the jury. Jurors don’t have to come up with a unanimous verdict like they did during the guilt phase of this trial. They must weigh the mitigating and aggravating factors and make a recommendation. If six or more vote for life, they don’t have to say what the tally is. If six or more vote for death, they must provide the tally on the form provided to them. It could take minutes to hours for them to come back.

3:25 p.m. update

After a short recess, the jury is back in the courtroom. Lee Circuit Judge Thomas Reese is now reading them a set of instructions about how they should handle this portion of the trial. They will consider the state’s four aggravating circumstances — the crime was heinous, atrocious or cruel, the murder happened during a kidnapping, the crime was cold, calculated and premeditated and Johnston has been convicted of a violent felony — the murders of Alexis and Jeffrey Sosa.

They will also consider the defense’s 100 mitigating factors. Jurors will have to weigh all those factors before giving their advisory recommendation to the judge. These instructions will likely take 20 to 30 minutes.

2:57 p.m. update

After reading into the record the 100 mitigating factors defense attorney David Brener believes he presented to jurors this week, he is wrapping up his closing argument. “He can be removed from society where he can do no harm,” Brener said. “Members of the jury, you have a choice.” Through tears, Brener asked jurors what benefit would come of separating Johnston from his family members. “What good can come from more pain, more heartache, more trauma?” he said. “At what point do we stop insisting on taking a brain-damaged boy’s life?”

The court is in a 10-minute break

2:09 p.m. update

Defense attorney David Brener presented a large board to jurors with pictures of co-defendants and other partygoers. He said there is a disparity between co-defendants — many of whom had large roles in the killings but who weren’t charged. Brener argued there were more than a dozen partygoers who committed crimes but who weren’t charged. “Life without parole is no picnic,” he said.

1:41 p.m.

Brener’s closing argument has continued this afternoon. He told jurors Jeffrey Sosa had carbon monoxide in his lungs, which meant he was alive when the car was set on fire in the North Cape Industrial Park. Witnesses said Paul Nunes and Kenneth Lopez went back to the industrial park to set the car on fire. Johnston was at his house with other co-defendants at that time, he said.

12:08 p.m. update

Court is in recess until 1:15 p.m., when Brener will continue his closing argument.

11:04 a.m. update

Brener cited research that shows death penalty jurors want to accomplish four things — protect society, punish the defendant, follow the law and do justice. He said a life sentence accomplishes all those goals. “The only way he will ever leave is in a pine box,” Brener said. He told jurors they are never compelled to recommend a death sentence.

11:01 a.m. update

Johnston attorney David Brener started his closing argument by telling jurors the Sosas didn’t deserve to die. “On the other hand, we have the life of another young man,” he said. He said the situation got out of control, fueled by drugs and alcohol, Johnston’s low IQ and peer pressure. “You have a once in a lifetime, combustible situation,” he said. “One which Kemar did not start and could not control.”

10:45 a.m. update

Lee has finished his closing argument. “If justice is to mean anything, the defendant must be held accountable,” he said.

The court is in a 10-minute break before the defense gives its closing argument.