It took a jury just three hours Tuesday to return guilty verdicts in the weeklong capital murder trial against Floyd Eugene Maestas for the 2004 death of Donna Lou Bott.
Of the four legal distinctions that would qualify a murder as aggravated murder, including sexual assault and killing in an unusually heinous or cruel way, the jury found Maestas committed all four.
The jury also delivered a guilty verdict against Maestas for aggravated burglary in connection with the roughing up and robbery of another woman, now 89, a short time after the fatal home-invasion robbery at Bott's house. She testified last week.
Beginning Tuesday, the same jury will meet to decide whether Maestas will face execution, life without parole or a life sentence with the possibility of parole. Until that phase of the trial has ended, 3rd District Judge Paul Maughan has ordered the jury to refrain from talking to reporters or from reading media reports about coverage of the trial.
Bott's niece, Phyllis Hancey, and three daughters were in the courtroom and began to cry when the clerk read the guilty verdicts. "We're very pleased with the verdict and that they saw the truth," Hancey said outside the courtroom.
Defense attorneys shielded Maestas from view while the verdict was read. Outside the courtroom, defense attorney Michael Sikdora did not stop to talk to reporters, saying only that he was disappointed in the verdict and that his team has "a lot of work to do" to be ready for the penalty phase of the trial.
Prosecutor Kent Morgan said he was praying as the verdict was read. "We think that justice has been done," he said outside. "If the verdict would have gone the other way, I hope I would have said the same thing."
Maestas was with two other men, William Hugh Irish and Rodney Roy Renzo, now both 22, the night Bott was killed. Both testified against Maestas as part of a deal in which murder charges would be dropped with their agreement to plead guilty to aggravated burglary. They have not yet been arraigned on the charges.
"They have not yet entered a plea. I expect them to do so in accordance with their agreement," Morgan said.
The aggravated burglary charge carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years, Morgan said.
Defense lawyer Michael Misner attacked the state's plea deal during closing arguments Tuesday morning and tried to distance Maestas from the "aggravated" level of the murder charge by suggesting Irish or Renzo might have played a bigger role in Bott's killing than was portrayed in testimony during the trial.
Morgan acknowledged, also during closing arguments, the co-defendants are not "two deacons passing the sacrament" but said their collective testimony, along with forensic evidence, shows Maestas was the sole person responsible for killing Bott, who was stabbed in the cheek, strangled, beaten and left for dead during a robbery "for chump change."Typically, capital cases are resolved through plea bargains. This is the first capital murder case to go before a jury since 1996, when Michael Scott DeCorso was tried for killing Margaret Ann Martinez two years earlier. The jury in DeCorso's case decided against the death penalty and gave DeCorso life in prison without parole.