(SS) 33-year-old South Florida man faces a possible death sentence after a jury found him guilty Thursday murdering Stephen Adams and Kevin Powell, a Wilton Manors couple who took him in after he posted a suggestive Craigslist ad that appeared to offer his services as a male escort.
The 12-member jury was ordered by Broward Circuit Judge Ilona Holmes to return Jan. 10 so prosecutors can provide additional evidence to argue that Peter Avsenew deserves to be executed for the murders.
Defense lawyers will prepare to argue that Avsenew deserves mercy in the form of a mandatory life sentence.
The jury took about 14 hours over three days to reach its decision, occasionally sending questions to the judge that seemed to indicate they were considering whether the murder was premeditated, committed during the course of a robbery, or unplanned. The distinction would have been crucial — a finding of second-degree murder, unplanned and not committed in the course of a felony, would have taken the death penalty off the table.
Prosecutor Shari Tate argued that Avsenew got into a confrontation with the victims in their Wilton Manors home on Dec. 23, 2010, stayed in the home long enough to clean up and remove some traces of his presence there, steal their credit cards, make phone calls and steal their car.
Avsenew also was casual about leaving town — he went shopping for camping equipment and didn’t leave Broward for his mother’s home in Polk County until Christmas Day.
The account stood in contrast to defense lawyer Gabe Ermine’s portrayal of Avsenew as being in a panicked “fight or flight” frame of mind after he happened to find the murdered bodies of the victims. He said Avsenew was worried because he had been working for the couple as a male prostitute and didn’t want to get in legal trouble — in late 2010 he was on probation in a grand theft case from Monroe County.
Prosecutors said there was no evidence that Avsenew actually worked as a prostitute for the couple.
Before he was accused of killing Adams and Powell, Avsenew was no stranger to law enforcement. He had previously been convicted of vehicle theft, robbery, grand theft and engaging in fraud through bounced checks. He also had pleaded no contest to marijuana possession, loitering, possession of drug paraphernalia, criminal mischief and resisting an officer without violence.
His criminal history was a strain on his relationship with his mother, whose recorded, sworn testimony was played for the jury. She told attorneys that Avsenew came to visit her on Christmas and immediately drew her suspicion because although he was driving the victims’ Saturn, she knew he was not licensed to drive. Two days later, she said, he wanted to ditch the car and admitted it was stolen, not borrowed.
Avsenew’s mother turned him in after she discovered police wanted him for questioning in connection with the Wilton Manors murders.
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