Accused killer and gang leader in court Monday

The St Johns County Courthouse in St Augustine will be the new venue for the jury trial of accused killer and gang leader Luis Albert Toledo of Deland, and Historic City News reporters will be in the gallery.

Jury selection begins Monday, October 2, at 8:30 a.m. in Courtroom 264 of the Richard O. Watson Judicial Center, 4010 Lewis Speedway, St. Augustine. Pretrial publicity forced Chief Circuit Judge Raul A. Zambrano to change the venue of the high-profile trial from Volusia County. Four Orlando television stations have already set up equipment and wiring for the pool video feed so that it can be ready for Monday, according to 7th Judicial Circuit Court Communications Officer Ludmilla Lelis.

The 33-year-old defendant is charged with second-degree murder in the killing of his wife, 28-year-old Yessenia Suarez, and two-counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of her children, 9-year-old Thalia and 8-year-old Michael. The mother and children were reported missing on October 23, 2013, from their home at 317 Covent Gardens Place in Deltona. Their bodies have not been found.

The State is seeking the death penalty in each of the two first-degree murder charges. If convicted of killing either of the children, Toledo could be sentenced to death.

Florida has new rules in death penalty cases. If Toledo is convicted, a unanimous jury recommendation is now required during the sentencing phase; making it tougher for prosecutors to have the former Number 3 leader in the “Florida Latin Kings” gang sentenced to death. Neither Assistant State Attorney J. Ryan Will, or Defense attorney Jeff Deen, one of three attorneys for Toledo, offered any comment on how the new rule will affect the outcome in this case.

“It feels good to actually have a solid date at this point,” Mike Otto, father of the two children, said after a pretrial hearing. “I’ve gone four years as of October, so it’s good to have a date.” He said he had not given much thought to the fact that it would be tougher to sentence Toledo to death. Rather, he said that it was unpleasant enough just to sit near him in court.  “It’s not a good feeling to sit 10-feet away from the man that is accused of killing your children.”

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