Approximately six weeks after my client, Kemar Johnston, was sentenced to two life terms, instead of the death penalty, for the torture murders of two teenagers, the other main Defendant in the case, Kenneth Lopez, pled guilty and received a sentence of fifty (50) years in prison. The state was seeking the death penalty for Mr. Lopez all along, even after he offered to plead guilty to consecutive life sentences, and especially after he perjured himself in his sworn statement, or proffer, in support of his attempt to receive a sentence less than death. Why the change in the position of the state attorney's office? The reason is simple. Under the law of proportionality applicable to capital cases, equally or less culpable co-defendants cannot receive a sentence greater than one who was tried to a jury and received a life sentence. While Mr. Lopez' level of culpability, especially after the evidence was adduced at the Johnston trial, was potentially greater than that of Kemar's, the prosecutor had already stated on the record that he viewed the two defendants as equally culpable. This meant that, for all intents and purposes, he was locked into that statement, and could not legally seek the death penalty for Lopez after Kemar Johnston's unanimous life recommendation. Since the maximum Lopez could receive was life in prison, he had to be given some incentive less than life in order to now plead guilty, especially given the possibility that the state would have to try Paul Nunes, as Nunes is attempting to withdraw his guilty plea. By flipping Lopez against Nunes, the state can probably close two cases, and in so doing close Lee County's ugly chapter known as the "Cash Feenz Murder Case."
As a capital defense lawyer, the only feeling greater than saving a life by your efforts is saving two lives. By saving Kemar, we were blessed to save the life of another.