A man found guilty of shooting dead a policeman was accidentally told he had been given the death penalty, instead of being given a life sentence.
A jury took just four hours to find Marco Antonio Parilla Jr guilty of the murder of Charles Kondek – but filled the court’s verdict form out incorrectly.
The error went unnoticed until the clerk read what she thought was the jury’s decision to the packed courtroom at the Pinellas County Criminal Justice Center in Clearwater, Florida.
Mr Kondek’s family erupted into cheers as they had sought the death penalty for Mr Parilla, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
Todd Stewart, one of the jurors, said: “I was completely horrified. It just completely blew me away.
“It was like a nightmare. I couldn’t imagine that happening to that family, they had already gone through so much.”
Jonathan Morales, another juror, said he felt nauseous when he heard the wrong announcement.
He said: “The feeling of seeing the family get that justice taken away from them and the false verdict, it was really hard to see.
“It was just really unfortunate to put the family through that, to put all parties through that.”
Pinellas Circuit judge Joseph Bulone instructed the jurors to fill out the form correctly once the error had surfaced.
In the last section of the form jurors had to check either “yes” or “no” for the following statement: “We the jury unanimously find that Marco Parilla should be sentenced to death.”
They jury had accidentally ticked “yes” the first time around.
Below the boxes was a sentence that instructed the jury to write down their total votes if they had checked “no”.
The jury foreman also filled out this section out incorrectly, and wrote in two votes for life and 10 for death.
Chief assistant state attorney Bruce Bartlett and defence attorney Bjorn Brunvan said this is the first time they’ve seen a wrong sentence announced in a capital case.
Mr Bartlett said he believes the verdict form isn’t clear enough for jurors.
He added: “For a fleeting moment, you kind of go ‘wow,’ maybe we did do something right here.
“And then a minute and a half later, it’s all taken away. And now there are tears. Not tears of joy, but tears of sorrow.”