Mom fears new sentencing rules for juvenile murderers may give daughter's killer his freedom
Margarita Osorio says she thinks of Ana Maria Angel every day
MIAMI-DADE, Fla. – When Margarita Osorio traded a comfortable life in Colombia for a job as a housekeeper in Miami, she said she sacrificed everything to give her 7-year-old only daughter a safer life. She never imagined that about a decade later, a sadistic group visiting from Orlando would be putting them "through hell," she said.
Osorio said Friday that she has had to relive "over and over and over again" the details of the night that her 18-year-old princess, Ana Maria Angel, faced torturous evil. She was robbed, gang raped, murdered and left to bleed out on the side of Interstate 95.
Osorio said she has followed the criminal cases of Cesar Mena, Joel Lebron, his nephew Jesus Roman, Hector Caraballo and his brother Victor Caraballo Her visits to Miami-Dade court didn't just stop, after they were convicted and sentenced. Each of them had a right to an automatic appeal, and the opportunity to file countless other motions and ask for hearings.
"It has been 13 years since they took her from me and in 13 years I haven't been able to rest," Osorio said in Spanish Friday. "Yesterday, I got a call from a prosecutor, and he said that a law changed. I'll be back in court. And let me tell you something I've learned, when the laws change, they always change in their favor."
The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that any juvenile convicted of first degree murder is eligible for a hearing that would allow them to reduce their sentences. Sentence relief for minors nationwide began after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment, because since their brains were not fully developed, minors were "immature" and "impetuous."
With four opinions, the courts opened the flood gate to re-sentencing masses of juveniles in a victory for advocates who are sympathetic to children in the court system. And although the new statutes still allow a trial judge to sentence a juvenile to life without parole -- as long as he has an individualized sentencing hearing – Osorio said Friday that she was still afraid.
"This isn't about revenge," Osorio said in Spanish. "They are dangerous people, who don't have compassion. You feel powerless while fighting with a system that could allow another girl to die, another girl to be raped. I am convinced that if given the opportunity, they will do it again."
At first the Third District Court of Appeal said the re-sentencing ruling was not retroactive, but the Florida Supreme Court disagreed Thursday. Osorio said she plans to be in court again as she follows Roman, a 29-year-old who said that when he was 16 he was part of the Orlando-area group to blame for her daughter's death.
Roman wasn't eligible for the death penalty. Judge William Thomas sentenced him to life in prison in 2008.
"There is not one day, I don't think of her," Osorio said.
The last time she saw Ana Maria Angel, she left with her teenage boyfriend Nelson Portobanco to have dinner at downtown Miami's Bayside Marketplace, 401 Biscayne Blvd. After dinner, the couple decided to go for a romantic walk on the beach at South Pointe Park, 1 Washington Ave., in Miami Beach. They were kidnapped as they were headed back to the car in the parking lot.
During Roman's trial, Osorio heard him admit to distracting a security guard, while the other four overpowered the couple. After they got them inside a four-door Ford F150 pick-up truck, Roman rushed in. The group went to the ATM to use their debit cards and split the stolen money. Roman got his share.
"If the police stop us," Roman said he told the couple. "You tell them that you are our cousins."
On cross examination, Roman admitted that before the sexual assault, he said Portobanco should start kissing Osorio's daughter. The men forced Portobanco to touch her breast and then moved him away to the floorboard in the middle. Roman said he watched while the others took turns to humiliate her and brutally attack her. And he admitted to laughing.
After a two-hour assault, Roman knew the couple was going to die when the youngest of the Caraballo brothers made a cut-throat motion. They pulled Portobanco out of the car and beat him. Roman's uncle then stabbed him several times, before slashing his throat. They left him for dead on the side of the road, and drove away with his girlfriend. Roman held the bloody knife. Portobanco survived.
"Isn't it true you told her, she needed to calm down that everything would be alright?" A prosecutor asked Roman during the trial. "Yes," he said. The prosecutor later said, "You were telling her 'baby calm down nothing is going to happen to you.'"
UNDERSTANDING THE LAW
In a 2012 Supreme Court case, the court held that "the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders."
This applies to hundreds of teens in the juvenile court system in Florida, whose sentences are now considered unconstitutional. Read more about the Florida Supreme Court's new rules on juvenile defendants >
Roman broke his promise. Knowing that his uncle had a gun, he said he walked her toward a retaining wall on the side of I-95. He told her to face the wall and kneel down execution style. When his uncle went to shoot her in the back of the head, the gun locked the first time, he said. While his uncle was chambering the round, the girl was begging for her life, he said.
Roman said he remembered her saying: "Please let me go. Don't kill me." When the gun went off, Roman said he put his head down. She was found on the Southwest 18th Street overpass of I-95 with her hands clasped as if she was praying when she died.
Roman took the girl's purse and remembered her ATM pin number. He admitted to helping to clean the truck inside and out. He didn't tell his mom. He didn't call police. Instead, he said he took off his clothes and went to sleep. In another version of the story, he said he got home and prayed.
"I have had to watch him come out on TV and lie to people. He wants people who were not in court to see the truth to think that he is a poor victim, who didn't know what was going to happen and was afraid," Osorio said. "He knew what was going to happen. That is the cruelty of the situation. It's not fair that I have to watch him and feel this impotence."
On the day her angel would have turned 29, Osorio was at the trial of Roman's uncle Lebron, also known as "El Diablo" -- the devil. She told the court that her little girl was a member of the National Honor Society and was a star goalie of the school's soccer team. After serving in the U.S. military, she was going to work toward her dream of becoming a school principal.
Osorio described how South Miami Senior High School administrators set up an empty chair on the day of graduation and placed her cap and gown and her awards on it. Osorio said she received her daughter's diploma and they played a song by Andrea Bocceli titled "Por Ti Volaré," known as "For You I'll Fly."
Lebron, who shot the gun and used the knife during the incident, was sentenced to death January 2013. His case is pending on appeal in the Florida Supreme Court.
Mena was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Hector Caraballo entered a 50 year plea with the agreement of Osorio and Portobanco. His brother Victor Caraballo was convicted and sentenced to death in 2007, but the Florida Supreme Court reversed his sentence on a technicality June 24, 2010, and sent the case back for a new sentencing, which has dragged out.
"My life is full of pain and anguish," Osorio said adding that she had recently completed cancer treatment, because she wanted to live to speak up for her daughter, who no longer has a voice.
Under the new rules, if Roman's attorney can show that he did not "actually kill, intend to kill, or attempt to kill the victim," he may get less than 40 years of prison and a judicial review after 15 years.
"I live one day at a time," she said. "It's the only way I can do this -- my struggle continues."
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