ORLANDO, Fla. – Closing arguments were delivered Friday in the penalty phase of the trial of Juan Rosario, who was convicted last month of killing his neighbor and setting her home on fire in 2013.
In a choice between death or life in prison without parole, the defense hoped Rosario’s life would be spared. But just after 11 p.m., the jury unanimously recommended he face the death penalty.
The penalty phase of 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 that Gov. Rick Scott never should have taken the case away from State Attorney Aramis Ayala after she announced her decision not to seek the death penalty in any case.
It was an emotional day in court Wednesday. The victim's 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.
The jury heard Thursday from Rosario’s family, who described his troubled childhood and behavioral issues.
A jury convicted Rosario last month of killing 83-year-old Elena Ortega and setting her house on fire to cover up the crime.
Circuit Judge Leticia Marques said she hoped to have a decision in the case by Friday.
Ortega's daughter told News 6 that justice had been served and her mother was smiling down.
Deanna Yoder, who was Ortega's neighbor, told News 6 that she was thrilled with the outcome, and that it left her with goosebumps.
"I'm over the top that we have a conviction and that this monster is off the streets for life," Yoder said.
Yoder said the entire situation is sad because it leaves two grieving families.
"What he (Rosario) doesn't understand is that he's not only hurting the victim's family, but (his) own because now (he) could die at the hands of the state," Yoder said.
She said she had faith in the case and knew that "God was going to work." She said she was thankful for the detectives who handled it and others who were involved in the process.
Yoder plans to hold a vigil for Ortega at Turnbull Park next week.
Rosario's defense attorney said the defense will have the chance to bring in expert witnesses on Sept. 1.
A judge must now impose the jury's recommendation before an official death sentence is made.