By Kyle LoJacono
Derek Pieper and Raymond Veluz were shot and killed in 2006 and two years later, Luc Pierre-Charles, 23, was convicted of the murders and given a life sentence.
However, the Second District Court of Appeal ruled Pierre-Charles will get a new trial because jurors heard testimony that has been deemed hearsay and revolves around a simple head nod by his brother, Andre.
Police records from July 28, 2006 state Pieper and Veluz, who were students at Wesley Chapel High at the time, left a party to get marijuana. The two were found dead on Harris Hill Road just outside of Dade City, shot multiple times in the back of their heads. The report states Pierre-Charles made the two kneel on the dirt road and killed them to “protect his drug turf.”
In the 2009 trial, prosecutors wanted to play the video of a police interview with Andre and his parents. Andre denied killing anyone in the interview. When asked by his father if Pierre-Charles had done the killings, Andre lifted his head off the table and nodded without a sound, according to court transcripts.
The video was not shown in the trial because Circuit Court Judge Pat Siracusa ruled it hearsay. However, Andre was questioned about it on the witness stand, where he said he had been nodding, shaking his head and making hand gestures that meant nothing. Andre said he was not saying yes to the question, but instead wanted the interviewers to leave him alone.
The jury found Pierre-Charles guilty after five hours of deliberating, but during that time asked three questions about what Andre said on the stand. The appeals court ruled those questions illustrated that the testimony, which was also considered hearsay, influenced their verdict.
“We believe it pushed the jury over the edge,” said Lane Lastinger, the court appointed attorney for Pierre-Charles. “It should never have been talked about in the case.”
Lastinger said hearsay evidence can be used in a case, but usually to discredit someone through contradictions.
“They used it to show Andre implicating Luc,” Lastinger said. “It can’t be used as admissible evidence for that purpose. You can’t use hearsay for that.”
Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia said his office is contemplating asking the appeals court to reconsider its ruling. Garcia said he believes certain facts in the hearing were not correct.
If there is a new trial, prosecutors will not be able to ask for the death penalty as it did in the first. Laws prevent another death penalty trial for the same incident.
The appeals court ruling comes only a few months before Tyree Jenkins, 25, goes on trial for the same killings. Police reports state Jenkins was with Pierre-Charles the day Pieper and Veluz were killed. Jenkins is already serving a life sentence after being found guilty of the 2008 murder of William Cherry.
Pieper was a lacrosse player for Wesley Chapel, and after his death, the Derek Pieper Memorial Cup was established. It is played each November at the Wesley Chapel District Park and attracts nearly 100 teams from around the Southeast.
The event also raises money for the Derek Pieper Memorial Fund, which gives money to help needy families buy lacrosse equipment and to scholarships for the players. The tournament has raised more than $100,000 since it started in 2006.