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South Florida Sun Sentinel

Convicted killer would rather risk death than let jury off hook for misconduct allegations

By Rafael Olmeda, South Florida Sun-Sentinel,

Peter Avsenew is escorted from the courtroom following a hearing in the penalty phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023. Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS

Convicted killer Peter Avsenew told a Broward judge Tuesday that he would rather risk the death penalty, again, than let the jury in his double murder retrial last year off the hook for allegations of misconduct.

Avsenew, 38, was convicted twice of the murders of Kevin Powell, 52, and Stephen Adams, 47, a Wilton Manors couple who took him into their home during the 2010 holiday season only to have him beat and shoot them to death as Christmas approached.

At his first trial, his own mother testified against him, remotely, and helped convince jurors to find him guilty. The Florida Supreme Court overturned his conviction and freed him from death row after determining his mother should not have been allowed to testify because she could not see him while she was answering questions.

His mother died before Avsenew’s 2022 retrial, but even without her testimony, the jury found him guilty and unanimously recommended the death penalty.

Weeks after that recommendation, a whistleblower juror came forward to tell the judge and lawyers that some panelists watched a documentary about the case, joked on WhatsApp about making up their minds ahead of time about punishment but well ahead of the trial’s penalty phases, and used the internet to look up information that had not been presented to them in court.

Broward Circuit Judge Martin Fein had little choice but to overturn the death recommendation , but he allowed the conviction to stand after determining there was no evidence of jury misconduct before the guilty verdict was reached.

A retrial on the penalty phase has not been set.

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In court on Tuesday, prosecutors Stephen Zaccor and Molly McGuire offiered to drop the death penalty and accept a sentence of life in prison if Avsenew would stop pursuing allegations of jury misconduct.

Defense lawyers Gabe Ermine and Phyllis Cook urged Avsenew to accept the deal, but he refused.

“Criminal defendants have the right to control their own destiny,” Fein said. “He gets to decide whether his lawyers are going to pursue (the misconduct issue).”

Avsenew has a history of drawing attention to himself in court. After his first trial in 2017, he fired his lawyers and showed no remorse during the penalty phase of the trial, during which he represented himself.

“I have no regrets in my life and I’m proud of every decision I’ve ever made,” he said. “No one here knows what happened … You would need a Ouija board for that.”

As the jury filed out of the courtroom after recommending a death sentence in January 2018, Avsenew scratched his forehead with his middle finger. He told Broward Circuit Judge Ilona Holmes the gesture was not aimed at the jury.

“It was to the family” of the victims, he said.

In a letter to Holmes, Avsenew threatened to kill again. “I will not ask for mercy and am not sorry,” he wrote. “I can’t put into words the feeling of ending a life; it’s euphoric at the least.”

Because he rejected the prosecution’s offer Tuesday, Avsenew would still face the death penalty even if he were to be granted a new trial. Under current state law, the jury would only need an 8-4 majority in the penalty phases to authorize a death sentence recommendation.

Avsenew is due back in court Friday to determine whether the judge will allow him to fire his lawyers over their disagreement over strategy.

Rafael Olmeda can be reached at and 954-356-4457.

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