Trial by Fire

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"Oftentimes, people who may have the best intentions and may be operating under what they think are noble, moral motives form an opinion and refuse to consider the rest of the information," Dutko says. "A lot of times, injustices occur, and that's exactly where this was headed, I'm convinced."

Ready for the worst, Dutko made plans for a penalty phase of the trial. "We had to be prepared for the jury to convict him," he says. But Dutko felt an inexplicable confidence.

After closing arguments, Pourghafari was told that it could take another two to three weeks for the jury to sift through the evidence and reach a decision.

Three hours, 15 minutes later, Dutko got a call on his cell phone: Get back to court. Pourghafari was frantic. In fact, he was trembling when the jury assembled in Judge Alfred Horowitz's courtroom on April 22, 2004, to read the verdict.

The jury left the deliberation room and filed into their seats. His head back, Pourghafari prayed out loud. Barnes remembers, "He was saying, 'Oh please, dear God.' The whole courtroom could hear him."

The bailiff read the verdict: Pourghafari was found not guilty on both counts. He put his head in his hands and cried. His wife came over and hugged him. Elated, Pourghafari hugged Cavanagh. "He was misled," Pourghafari says.

Prosecution witnesses were stunned. "I found it really hard to believe," DeHaan says. "During the trial, I thought, 'It looks pretty bad for him. '"

Juror Robert Bowers, a 38-year Publix employee retired since 2000, says he'll never forget it. "Extraordinary. It's an awesome responsibility to know your vote could affect a man's life."

"It was like we were just one big brain," Barnes marvels. "All of us thought the same way. It was just amazing. Truly amazing."

To keep her job at Jerry's Diner, she didn't take a day off for two months afterward. "I was worn out, but at least I was able to go home and sleep at night. I felt really good when I walked out of that courtroom. We all found him innocent because we all thought he was innocent."

Juror Salvador Rocafort says he respected Cavanagh a great deal ("If I was a movie director, I would cast him!" he says). But he adds, "When the prosecution finished, my reaction was, 'This just doesn't cut it. '"

In a post-9/11 world, Pourghafari didn't take the stand in his own defense. "I came to the realization that his greatest problem was communication," Dutko explains, "and I was concerned that if he came across as uncertain or ambiguous, it could have undermined everything."

But jurors said they were aware of his Middle Eastern background.

"When you see someone of that nationality, 'terrorist' does come to mind," Bowers concedes. "But the evidence was overwhelming. He wasn't at the scene. The information and the eyewitnesses and the time frame just didn't match up."

Bowers, who attributes the death to "sheer accident," remains convinced the right decision was made. "This man couldn't possibly have pulled off this crime," he says. "I think they had him pegged as guilty right from the very beginning without even checking the facts."

Barnes found the prosecution's case extremely weak. "Without a doubt," she maintains, "he did not do what they said he did."

The jurors were dismissed as Pourghafari and Dutko remained inside, but when the doors opened and the pair entered the hallway, all 12 surrounded them. Some hugged the man they'd just found not guilty. "Each woman, and most of the men," Dutko remembers. "Many were quite emotional. They all stood in the hallway and asked about taking him to lunch."

"He bought dinner for everyone," Bowers recalls. "He was so apologetic and thankful and really grateful. A real nice fellow to talk to."

Dutko opted out. "The exhilaration of the victory was exceeded only by exhaustion and a sense of relief," he says. "I wasn't really anxious to go to a restaurant with loud talking — I just wanted to come back here and shut the door and process it all."

A couple of hours later, defense investigator Ron Cacciatore called. "You're not going to believe what I just saw — the jury is toasting Kaz, and they want to come over and talk to you!"

Pourghafari and ten of the 12 jurors filed into Dutko's office, and a bottle of champagne was opened. "They were entertaining and regaling each other with memories of the case," he says. "And mocking me and Brian Cavanagh." He laughs and shakes his head. "It was like they didn't want the case to end! An experience like I've never known before. That case was my Super Bowl."

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton