Judge: Man convicted of killing 83-year-old neighbor to receive new penalty phase

Jury must review case again, recommend death penalty or life in prison

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - A man convicted of killing an 83-year-old woman and setting her home on fire will not be sentenced Friday after an Orange County circuit judge ordered a new penalty phase of his trial.

Juan Rosario was convicted in June of killing Elena Ortega and setting her home on fire. Prosecutors said he broke into the Ortega's home to rob her, then beat her to death and set the house on fire to cover it up.

A jury unanimously recommended the death penalty, however, Orange County Circuit Judge Leticia Marques now says Rosario's attorneys were ineffective during his penalty phase because they were unprepared.

Rosario's lead counsel, Roger Weeden, was unqualified to lead a death penalty case, wrote Marques.

Marques denied a motion for a new trial and granted the defendant's motion for a new penalty phase of the trial.

The jury will have to review the case and recommend again whether he should face the death penalty or face life in prison.

The Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office is appealing the judge's decision.

Last year, when State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced she would not seek the death penalty, Gov. Rick Scott reassigned 22 cases to State Attorney Brad King, including Rosario's.

Of those cases, three have made it through the judicial process, but none have ended with a death sentence. Rosario would be the first person sentenced to death among those cases removed from Ayala's office.

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