Court Cases

Suspect In 2007 Ft. Myers Murder Admits Guilt by Pat Gillespie -

Final Suspect in 2007 Fort Myers Murder Admits Guilt, gets 17 Years. Businessman Shot, Killed at his Home

The final co-defendant in the 2007 killing of a Fort Myers businessman pleaded guilty Wednesday morning and was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Raul Zavala, 18, stood before Lee Circuit Judge Thomas Reese and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and attempted robbery with a firearm, lesser charges to first-degree murder and attempted robbery with a firearm on which he was indicted. He will get credit for the 890 days he has spent in jail. Zavala, 16 at the time of the crime, was believed to have shot Epimenio Leal at his Woodside Avenue house April 9, 2007. But after talking with witnesses in the case, attorneys said they didn’t know if Zavala shot Leal.

“The state would not be able to prove that he actually had a gun,” said Assistant State Attorney Kelly Worcester. She said the case was difficult because prosecutors initially believed Zavala shot Leal. But later, co-defendant Carlos Zavala revealed a conversation between co-defendants Joshua Bauer and Filiberto Quiroga during which they said they’d put the shooting on Raul Zavala because he was 16 at the time of the crime and would get leniency. Along with Zavala, his brother, Carlos, and another co-defendant, Quiroga, entered pleas in the case. Quiroga was sentenced to life in prison for trying to get out of his plea deal, which originally called for 30 years in custody. Carlos Zavala is scheduled to be sentenced to 20 years in prison Monday.

Bauer went to trial and was convicted earlier this year. He was sentenced to life in prison. Pedro Cruz, the alleged coordinator of the botched robbery, went to trial in 2008 and was acquitted. Several of the co-defendants worked for Leal at his tire shop or were related to members of his family. Zavala said in court Bauer was the one who shot Leal, although in a statement to police, Bauer denied shooting Leal. Zavala, after taking questions from his attorney David Brener, said he didn’t know until a few days before the robbery who was the target. “(Quiroga) said that it was a business owner and a church guy,” he said. “That it would be easy.”

In court he turned and faced Leal’s family members and apologized. “I’m sorry and I didn’t mean for this to happen and I wish it didn’t happen,” he said.