Following nearly two days of jury selection and interviewing over 100 prospective jurors, the first-degree murder trial of 36-year-old Hernandez Lopaz Daniels began Feb. 10. Daniels, a convicted drug dealer serving a life sentence, is accused of paying $5,000 to have Constance Dupont, 39, of Havana killed in 2002. If convicted, he faces the death penalty.
During opening arguments, Assistant State Attorney Richard Combs said four inmates at the Federal Detention Center in Tallahassee testified that Daniels had bragged about taking care of a woman who had "snitched" on him.
"Folks, this is premeditated murder and he is the principal, even though he may never have had his finger on the trigger," Combs said.
Daniels' attorney, Clyde Taylor, did not make opening statements but reserved his opening remarks until today, when he began to call the defense witnesses.
Dupont became a confidential informant for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Leon County Sheriff's Office after Havana police pulled her over and found cocaine under a car seat, testified FDLE Special Agent Barbara McGraw. Dupont was able to connect the cocaine to another woman who was arrested. Combs presented evidence that the woman, Anna Chukes, bonded out of jail the day before Dupont was gunned down inside her apartment at 411 Main St., No. 23.
Once out of jail, Chukes allegedly began spreading the word that Dupont worked for the police. Daniels was one of the people who got the information. Chukes also made threats against Dupont, who had testified against her in a court case.
McGraw testified that in July, Dupont set up a controlled drug buy with Daniels outside the Tallahassee Mall a few weeks after she was pulled over. Dupont, who was wearing a wire, bought $250 worth of cocaine from Daniels. McGraw said Daniels wasn't arrested after the buy because it's sometimes "dangerous" to make the arrest when confidential informant is still at the scene and FDLE agents wanted to make another buy from Daniels and asked Dupont to set it up, McGraw said.
But on the day the deal was to be made, Aug. 2, Daniels told Dupont on the telephone that he was working, but asked to meet her. Around 4 a.m. the following morning, Richard Jordan, who lived in the same apartment building as Dupont, testified that he was passing Dupont's apartment and saw her body on the floor.
"I had already passed her apartment once and saw a light. I thought something was wrong so I went back. That's when I saw her body lying on the floor. The door was locked and I took out some of the window panes and went inside," Jordan said.
He said he immediately went over to the body and took her pulse. He went outside to get help and returned a few minutes later to the apartment to call police. Combs played a 911 recording for the jury.
"I want to report a murder at Joe's Apartments at Constance Dupont's house, No. 23. She's been shot through the window," Jordan told the operator.
Easily heard on the tape was someone in the background yelling "Get help!" and "Get here now!"
Lt. Lance Etherton, formerly of the Havana Police Department, testified that on the day Dupont was killed, the department was conducting surveillance in the area but a call came in about suspicious activity at a hardware store. The caller said several white men were just hanging around the side of the store and wanted someone from the HPD to check it out. That called pulled officers away from their post near Dupont's apartment.
McGraw said she recognized the voice on the 911 call as that of Daniel's brother. The call was placed from a telephone booth.
The state presented more witnesses last Friday, including inmates and some of Dupont's family members. The trial will last through this week.