A clerk mistakenly read the wrong verdict to a convict during a murder trial in a Clearwater, Florida, courtroom Friday, which led officials to question what went wrong.
Marco Parilla, who was on trial for the 2014 shooting death of Tarpon Springs police officer Charles Kondek, received a death sentence announcement due to a misstep by the jury, Fox 13 reported.
The clerk incorrectly issued the sentence instead of the correct life in prison verdict. It was changed minutes after jurors realized they checked off the wrong option on the sentencing form.
The three-page verdict form had a “yes” and “no” option for the following statement: “We the jury unanimously find that Marco Parilla should be sentenced to death,” according to a copy of the sheet obtained by the Tampa Bay Times. All jurors reportedly checked the “yes” box.
Ten jurors were reportedly in favor of a death sentence, while two wanted life in prison. Instructions indicated that the jury must write their total votes if they picked “no.”
The jury foreman reportedly filled in the blanks with two for life and 10 for death, according to the news outlet. It’s unclear how the error occurred. Florida law states that jurors must reach a unanimous decision to institute the death penalty.
Parilla’s attorney, Bjorn Brunvand, argued that if the jurors hadn’t recognized the mistake, his client would have received the death penalty.
“Maybe there’s some confusion about the meaning of unanimous,” Brunvand said, according to Fox 13. “I don’t know, the instructions are clear — if it’s not unanimous, it’s a life sentence.”
Parilla pled guilty in October to shooting and killing Kondek in 2014. The officer had reportedly been called to a scene for a noise complaint at the time of his death.
The courtroom cheered during the initial verdict. Juror Todd Stewart told the Tampa Bay Times said he felt terrible and couldn’t look at the victim’s family, who wanted justice for their relative’s killer.
“I was completely horrified,” Stewart said. “It just completely blew me away. It was like a nightmare. I couldn’t imagine that happening to that family. They had already gone through so much.”
Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett told the Tampa Bay Times that this was the first time he witnessed this kind of oversight during a capital case.
“For a fleeting moment, you kind of go ‘wow,’ maybe we did do something right here,” Bartlett said. “And then a minute and a half later, it’s all taken away. And now there are tears. Not tears of joy, but tears of sorrow.”