Ever since Clemente Aguirre-Jarquin was accused of the brutal double stabbing homicide of two women in Altamonte Springs, he has professed his innocence and claimed that he had nothing to do with the murders.
When one of the victim’s daughters confessed to killing her mother and grandmother, the case against Aquirre-Jarquin all but fell apart. But this man had already sat for more than ten years on death row, accused and convicted of crimes he didn’t commit.
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Many people knew that suspicion for the murders fell squarely at the feet of 38-year-old Clemente Aguirre-Jarquin. As an illegal immigrant from Honduras, law enforcement was sure they had caught their man when, in 2004, his former neighbor Cheryl Williams, 47, and Carole Bareis, 68 were stabbed and killed in their home.
The accused man swore blind at the time that he had nothing to do with the murders, and he had no obvious motive. It took many years and some savvy police work to ascertain that there was other DNA present at the double homicide, and it didn’t belong to Aquirre-Jarquin. He couldn’t wait to be proved innocent and to get off of death row where he didn’t even belong.
Prosecutors, who had previously been determined to see the accused man put to death, abruptly dropped all the charges against Aquirre-Jarquin recently, after evidence and confessions were forthcoming. Cheryl Williams’ daughter Samantha could well be the perpetrator of the crimes, a fact that law enforcement missed at the time.
Phil Archer of the State Attorney’s office was left with little choice when he dropped the case two years after the Florida Supreme Court overturned Aguirre-Jarquin’s conviction. The conviction was overturned due to repeated confessions by Samantha Williams, the daughter of Cherly Williams and granddaughter of Carole Bareis, admitting that she was the culprit in the murders.
Phil Archer’s spokesman, Todd Brown, released a statement offering the state’s official position on the troubling case. Brown told reporters, according to a report in Orlando Sentinel, that the charges were suddenly dropped “based upon new evidence that materially affects the credibility of a critical State witness.” When asked about the accused man’s continued incarceration, Brown said it was no longer “warranted or justified.”
According to Brown: “The State Attorney’s Office will be meeting with the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office over the coming weeks to review the evidence and determine if there are any investigative avenues that can be pursued or any further action to be taken in this case,” he said. But this information came many years too late for an innocent man who has been on death row for more than a decade.
One could understand why prosecutors thought that Aguirre-Jarquin was the one who committed the murders. He was the one who found the bodies of the two women after a night of drinking which led him to their home looking for more beer. But he swore blind the whole time that he had nothing to do with the murders and maintained his innocence throughout.
Despite the fact that Aguirre-Jarquin’s lawyers identified more than 100 drops of blood from the crime scene which hadn’t been tested, none of those drops belonged to the accused man. Then again, at least eight of the drops did belong to Samantha Williams, despite her attempts to mop up the evidence and allow someone else to take the blame for the murders.
In a bombshell revelation, the wife of Mark Van Sandt, who was Samantha’s boyfriend at the time, swore in an affidavit that her husband had told her that he saw Samantha Williams crawling out of his bedroom window on the night the murders were committed. That meant that Williams’ alibi that she was sleeping at home at the time fell apart, meaning that she was potentially guilty.
Having made it’s way to the Supreme Court, the decision to overturn his conviction came after the court said that the state had used Aguirre-Jarquin as “a scapegoat for [Williams’] crimes.” He was only arrested in the first place because at the time Samantha Williams told attending officers that she had a”gut feeling” Aguirre-Jarquin was the killer. Cops at the scene thought it strange that one of the victims, Cheryl Williams, had been stabbed 129 times suggesting the murder was more of a personal thing than a beer robbery.
It’s worth mentioning that at the time detectives could have been forgiven for assuming that Aguirre-Jarquin, an undocumented migrant, was responsible for the murders. He got the blood of the victims on his clothes when he checked for a pulse. He also picked up the 10-inch chef’s knife from the kitchen as he was unsure whether the killer was still in the house. The fact he failed to notify the police and tried to dispose of the evidence at the scene raised some serious red flags for the cops investigating the case.
When Aguirre-Jarquin walked out of the detention facility, he was ecstatic as he hugged the members of his legal team as well as friends and supporters. He wiped away tears as he told reporters he was “very happy – very, very happy.” But his future is unclear as he may still be deported back to Honduras as he entered the U.S. illegally all those years ago.
“To be honest with you, I’m surprised it took this long because I’ve got an amazing team of people who have worked hard … but I guess you have to fight hard,” Aguirre-Jarquin said to reporters following his release. “It’s harder to get out than to get in; I can guarantee you that.” It is now for his lawyers to pursue an asylum claim on Aguirre-Jarquin’s behalf so that he can remain in the U.S.
Despite being wrongly accused and nearly put to death for a crime he didn’t commit, experts have said that his plight to remain in the U.S. will be an “uphill battle.” One member of his defense team, Josh Dubin, said, “If there were ever a person that deserved a chance to become a United States citizen, it is Clemente Aguirre.” And while many agree with this sentiment, it remains to be seen whether or not Aguirre-Jarquin will be granted asylum.
Dubin added: “An innocent man was almost executed for a crime he did not commit,” he said. “So let the case of Clemente Aguirre be a stunning cautionary tale, a reminder that we need to take a long, hard look at all suspects, especially when the evidence is crying out that another person committed this crime. In this case, the evidence was screaming that Samantha Williams is the true murderer.” For the time being, Samantha Williams has not been charged as the state prepares their case against her.
Following his acquittal and release, Aguirre-Jarquin released a heartfelt statement thanking the judge and the court for treating him with respect. “Besides my mother, nobody believed me,” he said. But despite the confession from Samantha Williams and the Supreme Court’s decision, some people still believe that Aguirre-Jarquin is guilty.
Erik Bareis, Samantha Williams’ brother, told reporters that he is still convinced that Aguirre-Jarquin is the guilty party here. “How else would they find the knife and the bloody clothes and all of that?” Bareis said. “C’mon now. You can’t convince me that he didn’t do it. I’d like to see him … I wouldn’t say anything to him. I can’t tell you what I would say to him, anyway,” he said.
However, despite what Samantha’s brother assumes, his sister confessed to the killings at least five times to four different people. She openly told these four people that she had stabbed her mother and grandmother to death, even though she responded indignantly to questions from lawyers, sitting in court chewing on tobacco and texting from her cell phone.
For her part, Williams appears to have had enough of the court proceedings and seems to have resided herself to the fact she will be found guilty. When Dubin asked her “How can you be so certain that you would be able to remember [the killings] when you told me earlier that you don’t know what you don’t remember?” She replied, “I guess I can’t be then, can I?” But Aguirre-Jarquin only has forgiveness in his heart for Williams.
Following his sudden release from death row, Aguirre-Jarquin was asked by reporters who were gathered outside if he had a message for Samantha Williams. “I forgive you,” he said with a smile on his face, “Now it’s on you and God,” he added. The case against Williams is to be brought to court soon where she will be tried for the murders of her mother and grandmother.