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Florida Supreme Court overturns conviction, death sentence over remote testimony

Jan. 13 (UPI) -- The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday overturned the conviction and death sentence of a man accused of the execution-style killings of a married couple in 2010.

Peter Avsenew, 33, was sentenced to death in 2017 after being convicted on two counts of murder for the deaths of Kevin Powell, 52, and Stephen Adams, 47, at their Wilton Manors home. Both men were shot multiple times and sustained blunt force trauma.

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Their SUV and wallets were both missing from the home when police found them.

The state's highest court reversed the conviction and sentence on the grounds that the state incorrectly used pre-recorded remote testimony from a witness.

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Though investigators found no weapons in Powell and Adams' home, they were able to determine that Peter Avsenew knew both men and moved into their home shortly before the slayings.

Jeanne Avsenew, the defendant's mother, told investigators about "incriminating statements" and actions her son made shortly after the two men were killed.

She said her son came to visit her after the killings and told her "he had done something bad." He also brought a gun to her home, which she told him to get rid of.

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"He suggested that what he had done was violent, that it was the worst thing he had ever done, and that if he got caught, he would not be able to get out of trouble," court documents indicate.

Jeanne Avsenew said her son traveled to her home in an SUV he eventually said he stole and went to Walmart and made purchases using money he said a friend loaned him. Prosecutors said the purchases were made using the victims' credit cards.

While her son was still in her home, she learned he was a person of interest in the homicide case and reported him to police.

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The Florida Supreme Court took issue with the fact that when Jeanne Avsenew gave her testimony, she was located in Polk County and was unable to see her son, which violates trial procedure. She recorded her testimony on video, which was played at Peter Avsenew's trial in Broward County.

Though state law allows for witnesses to give testimony remotely if they live outside the jurisdiction of the court, the video format must allow for the witness to see the defendant while testifying.

The Florida Supreme Court sent Peter Asvenew's case to a lower court for a new trial.

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