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Jury says man should die for murders

Jurors say Pedro Hernandez Alberto should be put to death for killing his two stepdaughters. The judge will make the final decision.

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 30, 2001

TAMPA -- A jury recommended the death penalty for Pedro Hernandez Alberto by a 10-2 vote Thursday, dismissing the defense's contention that a brutal childhood and mental illness should keep him from the death chamber.

Prosecutors argued that Alberto killed his two stepdaughters, 11-year-old Donna Berezovsky and 29-year-old Isela Gonzalez, because he blamed them for problems in his marriage.

Defense attorney Daniel Hernandez argued the 1999 murders in Apollo Beach were partly the result of Alberto's impoverished childhood in rural Mexico, where he was beaten by his father, and of a car accident in 1994 that caused a head injury and emotional problems.

The defense also pointed to Alberto's cultural background, calling as a witness a University of South Florida anthropologist to say that children are expected to respect their elders in Mexico. In Alberto's native Oaxaca, the defense said, child abuse is common and rarely punished.

Hernandez called the murders "the most irrational thing a person could do." He added, "there is something seriously mentally, emotionally wrong with Pedro Alberto Hernandez."

The jury deliberated for 2 1/2 hours before recommending the death penalty.

"It's over, as far as I'm concerned," said Robert Iglesias, 44, of Brandon, who was engaged to marry Alberto's 29-year-old victim. "He's already started paying."

Judge Chet A. Tharpe will decide whether to accept the jury's recommendation for the death penalty, or to impose life in prison without parole. A sentencing date has not been set.

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