By John Nickerson, Stamford Advocate
Published: January 29, 2016
STAMFORD — A millionaire businessman lost a pitched legal battle to have his hit-man-for-hire conviction overturned and a new trial convened, clearing the way for a February sentencing that could put him away for up to 40 years.
Miguel Juarez, 54, was convicted in ••rid -of trying to hire someone to kill a man he believed was having an affair with his wife. For almost an hour in a fourth-floor courtroom at theStamford courthouse Thursday, Hartford attorney Paul Spinella eloquently rallied to the defense of his client by attacking the credibility of state's star witness in the case, German Zecena.
"If you tried to find a less credible witness than Mr. Zecena," Spinella told Judge Richard Comerford at the hearing Thursday morning. "I don't think it could be done."
Zecena, 50, a former employee of Juarez, Was arrested after he was heard looking for a hit-man-for-hire on the street in June 2010 and steered to an undercover Greenwich police officer. Zecena offered the officer $6,000 to kill a Greenwich man and gave him an $8o down payment and a dagger to do the job. The meeting was recorded by Stamford polfce.
During the trial his attorney, David Marantz, said that Zecena took responsibility for his actions and chose to cooperate with the police in order to avoid a lengthy prison sentence. In return for his testirnony, Zecena was released after spending nearly five years in jail and returned to his native Guatemala.
Juarez is the owner of the owner of MJM Stamford Landscaping, MJM Stamford Hardware and MJM Stone Supply of Stamford, and has been freed after posting $500,000 in court appearance bonds.
His attorney said that entirety of the state's attempted murder case against Juarez solely relied on the "gossamer, threads" of Zecena's false statements. Spinella recounted some of Zecena's falsehoods, ,which were taken up at trial in
front of the jury that convicted him and told Comerford that his credibility had been "compromised in every conceivable way."
Spinella argued that based on Zecena's credibility problems, no reasonable jury could have found Juarez guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
But Comerford was not buying the argument. The jury was given clear instructions carefully scrutinize some or all ofa witness's testimony, he said.
Spinella said that in cases like these, witnesses make egregious mistakes and it is within a judge's power to correct such mistakes.
Comerford said time and time again j; 21 years on the bench, he has seen juries do their job and keep the justice system working.
"I didn't see in this case that it didn't work," he said of the Juarez trial.
Spinella further argued that Juarez had not been proveri to have taken a 'substantial step' in the murder for hire plot that landed him an attempted murder conviction.
"Solicitation is not an attempt of murder," he said. Talking to someone about doing something is merely "words in the air. But is it really a substantial step," he asked.
"The facts have to be rooted in the real world... We just can't find someone guilty of talking," he said.
Senior Assistant State's Attorney James Be , aarcli told Comerford that there could be no doubt that Juarez did exactly what a jury convicted him of doing. He said the jury was right to credit the truthful testimony of Zecena.
Getting someone to hire an assassin, bring him to the would be victim's home and instruct him on how to kill the man, promise him money and even give a down payment and a dagger, would certainly constitute in every sense the legal definition of substantial step, Bernardi said.
Comerford said there was no error by the jury of "Constitutional magnitude" and denied the motions for acquittal and a new trial. Juarez, who was supposed to be sentenced after his trial at the end of June, is currently scheduled for sentencing on Feb. 10.