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Jury considers death penalty in Juan Rosario murder trial

Judge expects a decision by the end of week

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – An Orange County man who was convicted of killing his elderly neighbor and setting her home on fire in 2013 is hoping a jury will spare his life.

The penalty phase of Juan Rosario's trial started Wednesday, after his defense team tried to get the judge to take the death penalty off the table. His defense lawyer argued Gov. Rick Scott never should have taken away the case from State Attorney Aramis Ayala after her decision not to seek the death penalty in any case.

Last month, a jury convicted Rosario of killing 83-year-old Elena Ortega and setting her house on fire cover up the crime.

It was an emotional day in court Wednesday. The victims' family spoke about Ortega and the kind of woman she was when she was alive.

"I will cherish and treasure for the rest of my life the countless memories that are truly priceless for me," the victim's daughter, Elena Wilson, said.

Through tears, Wilson told the jury about her mother. She said she was a selfless mother and protector who loved to dance, sing and cook for her family.

"She was my cheerleader, my best friend, my guardian angel, and she gave me unconditional love that had no end," Wilson said.

Wilson said the last three and half years of learning to live without her mother have been difficult.

"I truly don't wish this on anyone," she said.

The jury is now tasked with deciding Rosario's fate. This marks the first death penalty case since Scott removed Ayala from almost two dozen death penalty cases. Ocala-area State Attorney Brad King is assigned to this case.

Ortega's family is seeking justice for their mother, grandmother and friend.

"For me, it's basically a gift, a relationship that will never end and the love that never dies," Wilson said.

Ortega's son and son-in-law also read victim impact statements in court Wednesday.

The judge dismissed the jury just before 4:30 p.m. They will be back Thursday starting at 9:30 a.m. to hear from the defense.

Rosario's lawyers are expected to call their own witnesses, including his family and a mental health expert.

The judge hopes to have a decision made in this case by Friday. The jury can either choose to sentence Rosario to death or life in prison without parole.


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