By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Broward prosecutors said this week that they have cleared a Florida convict of involvement in one of the county’s most notorious crimes – the 1994 video-taped murders of a Miramar club owner and two models.
For nearly a year, the quiet investigation of inmate William Ortiz had caused the postponement of the Supreme Court ordered retrial of accused killer Seth Penalver.
Ortiz, whose name did not come up in three previous trials, is serving a life sentence upstate for burglary, assault and carjacking in Broward County. He was implicated by at least two witnesses who came forward to identify Ortiz last March after one saw a Spanish television broadcast of part of the home surveillance video in the so-called Casey’s Nickelodeon murders.
But Chief Assistant Broward State Attorney Charles Morton said Miramar detectives now discount Ortiz as a suspect.
“We don’t find any credibility or truth to those allegations,” said Morton.
“He denies it, and our investigation can’t corroborate the allegations either.
“We felt obliged to look into it. We don’t want to prosecute the wrong people, of course.”
The results of the investigation were turned over to Penalver’s Fort Lauderdale attorney, Hilliard Moldoff.
“Now he has to investigate. Maybe he’ll come back and say, ‘Look, there really is some truth to this, here it is,” said Morton.
Moldoff declined comment.
But a Miami lawyer for Penalver’s co-defendant in the killings, Florida Death Row inmate Pablo Ibar, said the state attorney’s decision about Ortiz is not the last word.
“It can’t come as a surprise that the state is coming back and saying there’s nothing credible here,” said Benjamin Waxman, who wants a comparison of Ortiz’s DNA to “identifiable DNA” from strands of hair found on a blue t-shirt Ibar is said to have used to cover his face during the crime.
Waxman said previous tests have showed the hair did not come from Ibar.
“If Ortiz’s DNA is on the shirt it would be an amazing revelation,” said Waxman, who brought the accusations about Ortiz to prosecutors’ attention last March.
Earlier, fingerprint comparisons that Waxman hoped might put Ortiz at the scene failed to find a match. Ibar’s prints were not found at the scene either.
Casimir Sucharski, Marie Rogers and Sharon Anderson were shot dead in Sucharski’s home in the 3800 block of E. Shore Road in Miramar on the morning of June 27, 1994. The 48-year-old Sucharski, also known as Butch Casey, was the owner and manager of Casey’s Nickelodeon, a popular bar in Pembroke Park. The women, both 25, were friends and models.
A grainy, black and white surveillance video mounted near the ceiling showed two armed men forcing their way into the house through a back sliding door shortly after 7:15 a.m. [Parts of the video are included in this MSNBC report on the murders] Note: the video is disturbing.
Over the next 22 minutes, the victims were terrorized and Sucharski was pistol-whipped. Then, the video shows all three being shot execution style in the back of the head. Unaware a video camera was running, one killer removed the blue T-shirt he’d used to cover his face. Police say that killer was Ibar.
Two months later, Penalver and Ibar were indicted for murder and armed robbery and burglary.
They were tried together over nine months in 1997-98, in what at the time was reportedly the most expensive trial ever held in Broward. The jury deadlocked, and a mistrial was declared.
The pair was tried again in 2000, but separately. Each was convicted and sentenced to death.
In 2006, the Supreme Court unanimously granted Penalver a new trial. The central reason: the video was so poor the justices couldn’t tell if Penalver was the killer who wore a hat and sunglasses. He’s being held at the Broward County Jail.
The justices rejected Ibar’s request for a new trial, noting his face was visible on the tape.
But one year ago this week, after watching the tape during a story about the case on Spanish television talk show “Maria Elvira Live,” Juan Gispert contacted attorney Waxman.
Gispert, who knew Ortiz for years, said he recognized his face, mannerisms and gait. He told Waxman he was certain Ortiz was the killer who showed his face in the tape, not Ibar.
Waxman contends in court papers that Ortiz looks more like the man in the tape than Ibar, but the killer appears as lighter skinned than Ortiz. Nevertheless, Waxman said “additional witnesses” who have viewed the tape have also identified Ortiz.