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Sentencing Phase Continues For Man Convicted In SoBe Rape, Murder

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Joel Lebron (Source: CBS4)

Joel Lebron (Source: CBS4)

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South Florida Crime

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Jurors handling the sentencing hearing for Joel Lebron, the man convicted in the 2002 kidnapping, rape, and murder of Ana Maria Angel will have to return for closings on Friday after a juror’s child fell ill.

The judge let the juror go home and dismissed the rest for the day as well.

Even if a verdict was reached by the jury, Lebron will not be sentenced this week.

Lebron, 33, was convicted last week of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping, sexual battery and other felonies. He could receive the death penalty.

Thursday, social worker Jose Rafael Lopez, a defense expert, testified Lebron grew up in a tenement with a “dysfunctional family.

“The mother was the subject of domestic violence, the father was an alcoholic, the engaged in deviant behavior,” Lopez said.

While defense psychologists testified Lebron may have suffered brain damage when he was hit by a car as a child, prosecutors tried to counter the argument.

Neurologist Dr. Robert Janowitz told jurors that he examined a nuclear scan of Lebron’s brain and found no abnormalities.

“In my opinion, it was a normal scan,” Janowitz said.

Prosecution witness Dr. Raymond Lopez testified Thursday that he examined Lebron, and the convicted murderer greeted him cordially, shaking his hand.

“You don’t need to do a lot of fancy studies,” the neurologist said. “You can just tell by that kind of response that things are going pretty good.”

Lopez testified that Lebron watched telenovelas and followed the plots. The doctor said Lebron could talk professional sports news and scores chapter and verse.

“This is a brain that’s working at a high level of function, absolutely no evidence of brain injury,” Lopez told the jury.

Witnesses for both sides took the stand Wednesday including a detective who revealed Lebron told him he “felt like a king” after he killed Ana Maria. It was the first time the jury heard this statement because the judge didn’t allow that specific testimony during the trial.

Angel’s mother, a friend, and a former co-worker shared personal memories of the murdered teen.

Lebron’s sister, Emilia Roman, also testified Wednesday.

Roman, 49, told the jury this was the first time she’s seen Joel since 2001.  She said had to two other brothers who were also incarcerated.  She then began to sob on the stand.

Following Roman was a psychologist who told the jury that Lebron had damaged his brain during an accident he suffered when he was 5 years old. The doctor said Lebron was raised in a violent home and was made fun of by classmates who called him “monkey boy” because he had “motor ticks” which caused him to scratch his head and face. He added that because of his childhood, Lebron always felt he was different.

Lebron’s defense attorney Ralph Rodriguez also told jurors that Lebron’s father was an alcoholic who abandoned his family.

Rodriguez said it is a factor the jury should consider when it decides whether to give him a life sentence or the death penalty.

Police said Lebron was one of five Orlando men accused of kidnapping, gang raping, and then killing Ana Maria Angel execution-style and attempting to murder her boyfriend Nelson Portobanco in 2002 after grabbing them from a South Beach street after the couple had just taken a stroll on the beach. The high school sweethearts were ordered into a truck at gunpoint.

Prosecutors said the men gang-raped Ana Maria as the truck drove north on I-95. At one point, Lebron and a co-defendant dragged Portobanco from the truck, stabbed him repeatedly, slit his throat and then left him to die on the side of I-95 in Broward County. Portobanco managed to survive and testified at the trial.

Lebron eventually shot and killed Angel off I-95 in Palm Beach County as the young woman begged for her life.

The judge will hold a “spencer hearing” in which both sides can present arguments the jury was not permitted to hear. The judge will then take some time to prepare a written sentencing order, and read it at a subsequent hearing.

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