Man exonerated in 2004 double murder files federal lawsuit against Seminole County

Civil rights lawsuit alleges biased, negligent investigation leading to wrongful conviction

Clemente Aguirre-Jarquin after his exoneration hearing on Monday, Nov. 5. (Photo: Innocence Project/Phelan Ebanhack/AP)
Clemente Aguirre-Jarquin after his exoneration hearing on Monday, Nov. 5. (Photo: Innocence Project/Phelan Ebanhack/AP)

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – A man who spent 10 years on Florida’s death row before being exonerated for a 2004 double murder he did not commit filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Tuesday against Seminole County and its Sheriff’s Office.

Clemente Aguirre-Jarquin, an undocumented Honduran immigrant, was arrested at 24 years old and received the death penalty in 2006 for the stabbing deaths of his neighbors, Cheryl Williams and her mother, Carol Bareis.

On Tuesday, Aguirre’s lawyers, with the firm Grant & Eisenhofer, filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Orlando alleging the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office conducted a biased and negligent investigation that led to his wrongful arrest and conviction.

Aguirre found the victims’ bodies but didn’t report it in fear of being deported, he told authorities. The victims had been stabbed dozens of times. While checking for a pulse, Aguirre’s attorneys said he got their blood on his clothing.

Blood belonging to the victims’ daughter and granddaughter, Samantha Williams, was found at the crime scene but not tested for 10 years, according to the complaint. Williams also confessed to numerous friends and acquaintances she killed her mother and grandmother, according to the Innocence Project.

“Seminole County techs took samples but never bothered to test them,” according to a statement from Grant & Eisenhofer. “Authorities neglected to take into account the younger woman’s propensity to violence and threats against her family. Mr. Aguirre’s strong alibi for the time of the murders was also never properly investigated.”

Aguirre was at Pretzels, a local pool hall, at the time when investigators determined Cheryl Williams and Carol Bareis were killed, according to the lawsuit, and investigators were able to confirm Aquirre’s alibi through multiple witnesses and records.

The complaint against the county and the Sheriff’s Office also personally names the lead investigator on the case and crime scene technicians who worked on the case.

When Sheriff’s Office investigators interviewed Aguirre, who speaks limited English, a translator was not present.

“Were it not for the flagrant misconduct of the defendants, it never would have happened,” according to the lawsuit. “As a direct result of the defendants’ deliberate, intentional and/or reckless failure to investigate, and their concealment of exculpatory and impeachment information, Clemente Aguirre’s civil rights were violated and he was robbed of over 14 years of his life and freedom.”

14 years on death row

The Innocence Project, which works to exonerate wrongly convicted people, took on Aguirre’s case in 2011.

In 2016, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously overturned Aguirre’s conviction and death sentence based on new evidence that included DNA testing of multiple pieces of crime scene evidence that implicated Williams.

Cheryl Williams was stabbed 129 times, evidence of “overkill” and an emotional connection between the victim and her killer, according to the complaint filed Tuesday.

Williams was never charged with the slayings and testified for the prosecution during Aguirre’s 2006 trial.

State Attorney Phil Archer planned to seek the death penalty again in a re-trial but in 2018, the state attorney’s office announced it was dropping all charges against Aguirre.

Following an exoneration hearing, Aguirre walked free in November 2018 for the first time in nearly 15 years. He now lives in the Tampa area.

Check back for updates on this developing story.

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