KEY WEST – Jurors will not get to hear the racial slur a murder suspect allegedly used before a Key West man was stabbed to death more than three years ago.
The Third District Court of Appeal recently denied a bid by prosecutors to introduce what Nicholas Ferro of Hollywood allegedly said before he stabbed Marques Butler in October 2009.
Butler, an African American, was killed during an altercation between his friends and a group of young people from Hollywood.
The first trial ended in a hung jury in March 2012 and a new trial is scheduled to start Sept. 16 with jury selection.
Ferro is claiming self-defense.
Miami-Dade Assis-ant State Attorney Breezye Telfair and co-counsel Miesha Darrough are prosecuting the case, not Monroe County prosecutors.
Employees in the Keys prosecutor’s office know Butler and his family, so then-Gov. Charlie Crist gave the case to Miami-Dade.
Prosecutors have said they have at least one witness who can testify that Ferro, who was attending Fantasy Fest with other friends from Hollywood, said, “Watch the (N-word) in the yellow shirt, he’s going to fall, he’s going to fall hard” and “305. That’s why I stabbed your (N-word).” Prosecutors wanted to introduce the remarks to show that Ferro acted with “ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent,” their motion states.
Circuit Judge David Audlin, who oversaw Ferro’s first murder trial, would not allow Ferro’s alleged statement because prosecutors had not included hate-crime charges against him.
The judge also said the alleged remark would inflame or prejudice the jury against the defendant.
The case will be retried in Plantation Key, not far from Key Largo, with Circuit Court Judge Luis Garcia presiding.
After Garcia also ruled against admitting Ferro’s alleged statement, prosecutors moved to the appeals panel in Miami, which also ruled against them on April 1.
Butler, a popular former football player at Key West High School and a community college student, was out with friends near Duval Street during Fantasy Fest week, a time when tens of thousands of visitors from around Florida and rest of the country visit downtown Key West.
Butler and a group of Key West youth ran into Ferro’s group around 4 a.m. that Saturday.
A fight broke out and Butler, 23, was stabbed in the abdomen.
He died after emergency surgery.
Ferro told the court during the first trial that he felt threatened by Butler’s group and that he drew a penknife to defend himself.
He told the court that he accidentally stabbed Butler when Butler fell forward during the scuffle.
Ferro faces life in prison if he’s found guilty of the second-degree murder charge. He is free on $725,000 bond.
Butler’s slaying and the decision by prosecutors not to pursue hate-crime charges against Ferro upset many in the Bahama Village community, the largely African-American neighborhood where Butler was raised.
African American residents of Key West are also frustrated over what they see as the slow pace of justice.
“It’s sad that justice has not been done,” said Aaron Castillo, a member of the Bahama Village Redevelopment Advisory Committee.
“The incident has left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.”
Castillo and other community members disagree that the fatal altercation between the two groups was racially motivated by Butler and his friends.
“The community is united as one,” Castillo said.
“It’s not a racial thing. It had nothing to do with no race. And Marques, you could call him any name in the book, he was a humanitarian and was kind to everyone.”