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Jury trials are tough enough for attorneys even when they don't have to dodge flying purses. A Florida defense attorney was hit with the flying purse after the parents of Yvonne Bustamante, a murder victim, became enraged when a mistrial was declared in the case of the alleged killer. The defendant, Leon Davis Jr., is accused of triple murder for the death of Bustamante as well as her pregnant sister-in-law, Juanita Luciano, and her unborn child, who was born prematurely after the attacks.
The attack was part of an alleged robbery attempt at an insurance office. Circuit Judge J. Michael Hunter declared the mistrial after an EMT testified as to a "dying declaration." According to the Lake Wales News, the EMT testified that after Bustamante was asked who attacked her, "She raised up on the stretcher and emphatically stated 'Leon Davis,' without any doubt in her mind." The statement was problematic because the witness testified as to Bustamante's state of the mind.
The dying declaration is an exception to the rule prohibiting hearsay testimony. Generally speaking, under the hearsay rule, one person cannot testify about information gained from another person. For example, absent an exception, a witness cannot testify that: "John told me that he was going to be out of town." The reason for the hearsay rule is that hearsay testimony is considered to be unreliable. However, there are many exceptions. Under the dying declaration exception, testimony that would normally be inadmissible may be admitted because there is a presumption that there is truth in the last words of a dying person.
However, in the Bustamante case, the EMT witness likely went too far when they testified as to the certainty of the dying declarant and left the judge with little choice but to declare a mistrial. The testimony offered by the EMT is viewed as bolstering another witness' credibility, something that is not allowed. This set off the family of the victim, who threw a purse at the defendant, which hit Andrea Norgard and bounced off of her, striking the defendant as well. In addition, Richard Bustamante, the victim's father had to be restrained after jumping over rows of benches and grabbing Norgard's arm, apparently trying to get to David before being restrained.
Norgard has decided not to press charges, but did request that the couple be barred from the new trial. The new trial is scheduled to begin on January 3rd.
Dodging a flying purse: All in a good days work in the world of criminal defense.