Former Lely student accepts 50-year plea agreement in murder case

— Before jury selection began in his first-degree murder case Tuesday, a 22-year-old former Lely High School student accepted a 50-year plea agreement.

Jesus Rene Garza pleaded to a lesser charge of second-degree murder, as well as a charge of robbery with a deadly weapon, in the 2008 stabbing death of 51-year-old Roberto Avalos-Jasso. He faced two life sentences if convicted by a jury.

Under Florida’s sentencing laws, the earliest Garza could be released from prison is age 61. Garza, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, would be deported upon release.

Garza rejected the 50-year prison term Friday but changed his mind Tuesday after learning the robbery charge carried a life sentence. His lawyer, Landon Miller, said Garza thought the maximum sentence for robbery was 30 years in prison.

“Once he realized he could get life on the robbery charge, he decided it was not worth the risk to go to trial just to defeat the murder case,” Miller said.

Garza didn’t speak at length during Tuesday’s hearing. Before returning to jail, he hugged two young cousins in the courtroom, fighting back a few tears.

Posted earlier:

Former Lely student rejects plea; murder trial expected to start today

A 22-year-old former Lely High School student charged with first-degree murder will take his case to a jury today, a week after rejecting a 50-year plea agreement.

Garza, a co-defendant in the 2008 murder case, is accused of stabbing and killing 51-year-old Roberto Avalos-Jasso during a planned robbery near Six L's Farm in East Naples.

The trial is scheduled for three days. Garza faces two life sentences if convicted on charges of first-degree murder and robbery with a firearm or deadly weapon. Prosecutors are not pursuing the death penalty.

Garza's lawyer, Landon Miller, said his client rejected the plea deal because it was too long, and prosecutors rejected his counteroffer. He would not share details of the offer.

Under Florida law, which requires inmates to serve at least 85 percent of a prison term, Garza could have been released from prison as early as age 61 had he accepted the plea agreement.

"You understand that in first-degree it's mandatory life?" Baker asked after Garza rejected the plea agreement. "If for some reason you were released early, you would start your next sentence."

Miller said Garza's position on the case is that he did not assist co-defendant Juan Jose Barrientos Jr., 20, in capital murder.

"The co-defendant acted independently of any actions of my client," Miller said.

Both Garza and Barrientos were Lely High School students when arrested. Garza was 18 years old at the time, and Barrientos, who is charged as an adult, was 17.

Collier County sheriff's investigators said the two men went to separate stations and implicated the other following the killing.

Barrientos will not testify against Garza, Miller said.

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