Past cited in leniency plea
By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD
TAMPA -- Pedro Hernandez Alberto grew up dirt-poor in rural Mexico, endured beatings from his father, watched his mother go insane and suffered a brain injury that impaired his grip on reality, a lawyer said Wednesday in trying to save Alberto's life.
Alberto was convicted in August of first-degree murder in the 1999 shootings of his two stepdaughters, 11-year-old Donna Berezovsky and 29-year-old Isela Gonzalez. Prosecutors contend he blamed them for ruining his marriage.
Now, the same Hillsborough County jury must decide between recommending the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
Defense attorney Daniel Hernandez told the jury that Alberto did not torture his victims, nor was he a serial killer.
Hernandez pointed to Alberto's childhood near Oaxaca, Mexico, where his father beat him with a broomstick and where his mentally ill mother had to be chained to furniture so she wouldn't wander out of the house. A car accident in 1994 left Alberto with a head injury that fueled paranoia and a persecution complex, the defense contends.
Prosecutor Jay Pruner had a different take on Alberto's character, and his motivation for the murders in Apollo Beach: he was "mean as a snake, and it was payback time."
In the courtroom, Alberto has been prone to bizarre behavior, cursing the courtroom and insisting on representing himself for most of the trial.
Wednesday, Pruner had just risen to deliver his opening statement when Alberto started blurting out obscenities.
Judge Chet A. Tharpe ordered Alberto removed but gave him another chance after the lunch break. Would he agree to remain civil? Would he respect the jury?
"The jury is a piece of s--- the same as you are a piece of s---," Alberto said through a translator.
"Take him out," the judge said.
The case is expected to go to the jury today.
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