Received 10 years probation, 180 days in jail

Sue Fleming, The Freer Press

SAN DIEGO - A Duval County jury handed down two verdicts of guilty Thursday morning after the two-day trial of Rene Armando Charo of Benavides.

Charo, 23, was charged with intoxication assault of Rita Roxanne Luna of Freer and intoxication manslaughter of Amanda Celeste Lichtenberger, also of Freer.

The charges stemmed from a motor vehicle accident that occurred during the early morning hours of May 17, 2003 between Benavides and Freer on Highway 339.

When the verdicts were read, Charo stood solemnly before the jury, while sobbing could be heard in the audience.

A recommended sentence of 10 years probation on each case to run concurrently, which was agreed upon by the state and the defense council, was announced after the verdicts. Charo will also spend 180 days in jail. The victims' families requested the sentence.

Under those terms, Charos' right to appeal was waived. A sentencing hearing will take place Sept. 10.

In thanking the jury, Assistant District Attorney Jon West said, "you made history because this is the first guilty verdict in Duval County from a jury on an intoxication manslaughter case."

West said the jury held Charo accountable, making the statement kids need to hear the words, "put down the keys."

"You gave Amanda a legacy - turning a page in Duval County," he said.

Defense attorney John Gilmore also thanked the jury for doing a difficult job saying, "while I don't agree with your decision, I respect your decision."

"Hopefully this will heal the wounds of this terrible accident," Gilmore said.

Defense attorney Charles Barrera said the case had been very difficult, when asked if he would like to comment following dismissal of the jury.

"We knew we had a problem because of the age of the victim. We had a problem because the feel of the community regarding drinking, especially teenage drinking," he said. "So we understand the jury's verdict and respect it, but I highly disagree for the reasons that I feel very strongly that the state did not prove its case."

He said the defendant had been charged with the offense of intoxication and said he felt the state did not prove intoxication legally.

"So I'm very disappointed about that, but the jury didn't know that - they thought it was a legal document," Barrera said, "In the end, we did not get a fair trial and I'll go on record saying that."

He said his client fully knows he is responsible, has accepted responsibility and is ready to complete the sentence.

"It's not a life sentence, but it's a strict sentence," he said.

When asked how the jury reached the verdicts, jury foreman John Lewis said the case was hard for the jury, which was composed of seven men and five women.

"The main thing the decisions were based on were alcohol and the layout of the accident," he said.

He said all jury members agreed Charo was at fault, was intoxicated and was in no position to drive.

"He was a good young man who made a mistake," Lewis said shaking his head. "We would like to send out the message to kids, these were all minors."

He also added the jury unanimously wanted to access punishment of a probated sentence of five years, but accepted the 10 years recommendation.

After the trial West said the case was hard for everyone.

"No one really wins in a case like this," he said.