Trial by Fire

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Cavanagh is still miffed at the outcome and the celebratory conclusion. "They probably would've taken O.J. Simpson out for dinner too!" Cavanagh says now. He didn't object to Pourghafari's being out on bond, but he takes issue with the way he was "able to wander like Peter Pan in the halls." Such contact can be a factor in a trial, he suggested.

"Your typical murder defendant isn't intermingling with jurors in the hallway," says Cavanagh (who has no plans to continue the search for Amanda's murderer). But Rocafort says they were forbidden from as much as making eye contact with Pourghafari during the trial.

The celebration raised a lot of eyebrows around the courthouse.

"They treated him like a celebrity," Cavanagh says. "I found it disgusting."

"It was just a spur-of-the-moment thing that happened," Rocafort says, adding that at the trial's conclusion, the judge gave the jury permission to speak to anyone they chose.

"It seemed I had gained wings," Pourghafari says today. Living in fear for months "was like walking around with a piano strapped to your back."

A few weeks ago, Kaz and Linda Pourghafari celebrated their 27th anniversary. On the way to the restaurant that night, she called Dutko to thank him for making it all possible. "She didn't like what he had done," Dutko opines, "but, by God, she knew he wasn't a murderer."

"Our marriage is getting stronger and stronger," Kaz says. "As we got older, we learned to talk. We never had before. And our finances are slowly coming back."

The ultimate irony of the case may be the fact that a year and a half ago, Dutko himself became a suspect in connection with a suspicious fire.

In October of 2005, Hurricane Wilma left Dutko's Fort Lauderdale home and office without power. He and his wife decamped, by car, to their second place in North Carolina, telling his staff he'd soon be enjoying a cold drink and a hot shower.

After tinkering with a golf cart that had trouble starting, he went into town for lunch. A neighbor called him with the news that his garage was on fire, started by fumes from the golf cart.

The Fire Department put out the blaze, but in the early morning, a hot spot left unextinguished caused the fire to rekindle. "The entire house burned to the ground," Dutko says. He phoned Lentini when it looked like local officials were starting to finger him for arson.

"He called me all upset, telling me his dogs had almost died," Lentini recalls. "He said, 'They're pointin' at me.' They thought Dutko set the second fire because he didn't want to deal with a partial loss. Good theory, huh?"

"They never said they were suspicious because I was a defense attorney," Dutko says, "but they damned sure acted like it. I could see quick opinions being formed."

When Lentini arrived, fire officials regarded him skeptically as a friend of Dutko's. Finally, Lentini managed to convince a state investigator that the fire had been a common rekindle — and not intentionally set.

"Much of it is a pride thing, a respect thing" in the industry, Lentini maintains. "Guys go nuts if you disagree with them. Then they say, 'You can disagree with me, but you have to respect me.'

"Well, after a while, pal, I'm going to disrespect you. Sending someone to prison who didn't belong there — that's about as bad as you can get."

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton