Jury: Ex­e­cute Waf­fle House killer

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Rafael Olmeda South Florida Sun Sen­tinel rolmeda@SunSen­tinel.com, 954-356-4457, Twit­ter @SSCourts and @rolmeda

A jury re­comended that Ger­hard Ho­jan be sent back to death row af­ter law al­lowed his case to be re-heard.

Ger­hard Ho­jan’s pleas for mercy were re­jected by a Broward jury Thurs­day.

Af­ter nine hours of de­lib­er­a­tion over two days, the jury rec­om­mended that Ho­jan, 43, be put to death for the mur­ders of two Waf­fle House em­ploy­ees in 2002.

It would be Ho­jan’s sec­ond trip to death row for the crimes — he was orig­i­nally sen­tenced to death af­ter his con­vic­tions in 2003. But the jury that rec­om­mended death 15 years ago was not unan­i­mous — the law per­mit­ted a judge to or­der an ex­e­cu­tion as long as a ma­jor­ity of ju­rors rec­om­mended it.

That changed in 2016, and Ho­jan won the right to have his fate de­ter­mined by a new jury. He is the first of a dozen for­mer death row in­mates whose cases need to be re-heard be­cause the Broward ju­ries that con­demned them were not unan­i­mous.

This time, Broward State At­tor­ney Mike Satz was able to con­vince all nine women and three men on the jury that the mur­ders of Wil­lie Ab­solu and Christina De­larosa were es­pe­cially heinous and cruel and com­mit­ted both to avoid ar­rest and dur­ing an armed kid­nap­ping.

Through­out the re­trial of Ho­jan’s penalty phase, de­fense lawyers Mitch Po­lay and H. Dohn Wil­liams sought to present a num­ber of mit­i­gat­ing fac­tors the jury could use to jus­tify mercy for Ho­jan.

The jury found that some of those mit­i­gat­ing fac­tors did ex­ist, but they were out­weighed by the ag­gra­vat­ing fac­tors that jus­ti­fied ex­e­cu­tion: The vic­tims were herded into the back freezer of the Waf­fle House, south of Grif­fin Road near In­ter­state 75 in Davie.

The vic­tims hud­dled for warmth as they feared for their lives — a third vic­tim, Bar­bara Nunn, told the other two that she was sure they would not sur­vive be­cause they could iden­tify Ho­jan and his co-de­fen­dant, Jimmy Mickel.

Af­ter march­ing them back to the freezer, Ho­jan re­turned to the trio three times. The last time, he shot all three. Then he and Mickel left, un­aware that Nunn sur­vived to let in­ves­ti­ga­tors and ju­ries know what hap­pened.

Mickel is serv­ing five life sen­tences for his role in the rob­bery and kid­nap­ping, but he was ac­quit­ted of the mur­ders in 2003.

Ho­jan’s fate is not sealed — Broward Cir­cuit Judge Paul Back­man is per­mit­ted to over­ride the jury’s rec­om­men­da­tion. Lawyers on both sides are due back in court Dec. 10 for a hear­ing dur­ing which de­fense lawyers will get one more chance to plead for mercy.

Back­man is re­tir­ing Dec. 31, so it is all but cer­tain he will make his de­ci­sion be­fore then.

RAFAEL OLMEDA/SUN SEN­TINEL

Ger­hard Ho­jan showed no re­ac­tion Thurs­day when a jury rec­om­mended he be ex­e­cuted.

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