MIAMI – During a recent hearing in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, Juan Carlos Portieles was trying to convince a judge that he deserves a new trial. He said he didn't plan to kill his 18-year-old ex-girlfriend.
Jacklyn Torrealba liked to dance. Portieles, a DJ known as SeaSunz, was 15 years her senior. Their on-and-off relationship prompted him to write love letters. But despite his claims that he didn't have "room for resentment, anger or hate," a date that started with a party at Space -- an after-hours club in downtown Miami -- ended with her lifeless body in his Toyota Camry.
Before parking his car at the Miami-Dade Police Department's Midwest District Station and showing police her body, he confessed to the murder to an uncle and two friends. One of his friends told police that he was looking for ways to get rid of Torrealba's body.
"I punched her, bit her, pulled her hair -- I tried everything," Portieles said after waiving his Miranda rights and being held on a second-degree murder charge, according to a police report. "She hit me with everything. I grabbed her by the throat and choked her until she stopped moving."
Prosecutors charged him with first-degree murder -- which has a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole in Florida -- and waived the death penalty. During trial, the medical examiner said it took Portieles four to six minutes to strangle her to death. Prosecutors said this gave him enough time to plan to kill her. Portieles appealed his case and lost. But he is not giving up. He wants a new trial and he hasn't ran out of options.
Torrealba's mother, Vilma Castro, wore a white T-shirt with a photo of her only daughter to a recent court hearing of a post-conviction motion. A playful video of Castro and her daughter remained on YouTube. Castro has been following the appeal process. She was in the courtroom this week and when prosecutor Deisy Hernandez delivered her closing statement in 2012.
"This is a murder with one's bare hands," Hernandez said. "This takes intent to kill. It takes thought."
Portieles said his attorney did not adequately challenge the medical examiner's findings or call a forensic pathologist, whose opinion was that "it is not possible to determine how long strangulation would have to be to cause the victim's death."
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Victoria Brennan disagreed and said in her October order that "strangulation was not the only evidence presented of premeditation." Brennan did allow him to contest his attorney's decision not to suppress his post-Miranda statement or cross-examine the prosecution's lead witness. But after an evidentiary hearing, she disagreed with Portieles again on Tuesday.
Aubrey Webb, Portieles' defense attorney, said Wednesday that he was appealing the judge's order with the Third District Court of Appeal. If a judge rules Portieles' counsel was ineffective, he could get a new trial, and with better representation, a new jury could find him guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter, which carry a lesser sentence, Webb said.
Portieles' "classic heat of passion" case was that of a "jealous ex-lover coming down off narcotics and drugs," Webb said.
Portieles was diagnosed with Schizoid, a rare personality disorder that makes it difficult to show emotion or form close personal relationships. He told a psychologist that he was sexually abused when he was 11. His use of alcohol and drugs -- marijuana, painkillers, acid, ecstasy, cocaine, heroin, crystal meth and crack --escalated during his teens and 20s, he said.
When he started pursuing Torrealba, she was a cheerleader and honors student at G. Holmes Braddock High School. He was a struggling promoter with a criminal history. Torrealba didn't know that when he was 18 and a teenage girl didn't want to see him, he was charged with battery after breaking into her room and beating her up.
About 15 years later, police said, Portieles told them Torrealba’s "silent treatment" enraged him. Webb said Portieles' defense was inexperienced, failed to suppress his confession and failed to cross-examine the friend who said he told her he killed her. Prosecutors did not offer him a plea agreement, Webb said.
"I don't believe the state genuinely wanted the death penalty," Webb said. "They just did that to leverage the defendant and to get a mandatory life sentence."
Castro said Portieles' confession was enough for him to spend the rest of his life in prison. During an interview in Spanish with América TeVé, Torrealba's father, Pablo Torrealba, said Portieles' efforts to get a new trial were very painful.
"Now this man, this beast, is saying things about what happened, and not only that, but he is saying things are completely fabricated," the distraught father said in Spanish during the recent América TeVé interview. "The forensic evidence doesn’t lie."