Death penalty to remain on the table in Luis Toledo case

DeLAND, Fla. — The death penalty will remain on the table for a 35-year-old Volusia County man who is accused of killing his wife and her two children, a judge ruled Friday morning during a hearing.

Volusia County Circuit Judge Raul Zambrano ruled on two motions made by defense attorneys aimed at preventing the prosecutors from pursuing the death penalty against Luis Toledo.

Toledo's wife, Yessenia Suarez, 28, and her children, Thalia Otto, 9, and Michael Otto, 8, disappeared from their Deltona home in October 2013. They have not been found.

Investigators said Toledo confessed to killing Suarez but denied killing her children.

Zambrano on Friday denied both of the defense's motions to get the death penalty off the table.

“What you need to understand is, right now, as it relates to this case, I am very much driven by the Admiral Farragut line, ‘Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,’ so ready for trial,” the judge said.

Attorneys for Toledo tried to argue that because the law was so broad and arbitrary, anyone charged with first-degree murder could also be given the death penalty.

“Because in Mr. Toledos case, it's being applied this way, (and) we believe it is being applied unconstitutionally as an expose facto law,” said defense attorney Jeff Deen.

But the state said that it has the power to decide who faces the death penalty and who doesn't, and that a defendant may appeal to a jury or a judge should the defense dislike an initial decision at trial.

The defense also tried to argue that because Toledo was not eligible for the death penalty before the changes to the law he shouldn't be eligible for it now.

But the state argued it was a procedural issue with the death penalty, not the death penalty itself that was the issue before the law changed.

Friday's rulings mean Toledo could face the death penalty if he is found guilty. His trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 2.