Judge sends convicted killer Peter Avsenew back to death row

A Broward judge ordered convicted killer Peter Avsenew back to death row Friday.

Avsenew’s execution was ordered by lethal injection for the 2010 murders of Stephen Adams and Kevin Powell, a Wilton Manors couple who took him into their home during the holiday season only to have him brutally kill them, steal their truck and go shopping with their credit cards.

Friday’s sentencing hearing was almost anti-climactic. Broward Circuit Judge Martin Fein had already heard from surviving members of the victims’ families, and no one had anything to say for the defendant, 38, who for years has fiercely resisted any pretense of asking for mercy for a crime he continues to insist he did not commit.

In addition to the death sentences for the murders, Fein sentenced Avsenew to life in prison for robbery with a firearm and five years each for grand theft of a vehicle and credit card fraud.

Avsenew did not speak during the hearing.

An appeal of his conviction is almost certain, and it would not be the first. Avsenew was originally tried in 2017 and convicted. He represented himself for the penalty phase and became Broward’s first inmate sent to death row under a new law that required a unanimous jury recommendation to impose the death sentence.

But a reluctant Florida Supreme Court later ruled that Avsenew’s constitutional right to confront his accusers was compromised when his own mother testified against him remotely. His mother took the stand via a videoconferencing program and said she could not see the defendant as she testified.

Peter Avsenew, is lead in to court for his sentencing at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Friday, December 8, 2023 Judge Martin Fein sentenced him to death for the 2010 beatings and murders of Stephen Adams and Kevin Powell in their Wilton Manors home. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)
Peter Avsenew is led in to court for his sentencing at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Friday. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

The court ordered a retrial, but Jeanne Avsenew died before it could take place. Still, a second jury found him guilty of the murders in 2022. That same jury recommended a death sentence again, unanimously. But one juror came forward to disclose misconduct: between the guilty verdict and the penalty phase, several jurors discussed the case with each other on WhatsApp, and some admitted to watching a documentary about it.

Fein dismissed the second jury’s death recommendation but upheld the verdict, a decision likely to form the basis of a future appeal.

A third jury was empaneled solely to decide whether to recommend a death sentence. That jury came back Oct. 19 with a third unanimous recommendation for execution.

With Friday’s sentencing, Avsenew has become the first inmate in Broward to be sentenced to death under a new law that no longer requires a jury’s unanimous decision to order an execution.

Rafael Olmeda can be reached at rolmeda@sunsentinel.com or 954-356-4457.

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