Convicted murderer receives new trial because of judge’s error

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY —  Christian Sagastume, a Vero Beach resident who pleaded no contest to manslaughter with a firearm and was sentenced to 25 years in prison in August, will get another day in court because Judge Cynthia L. Cox erroneously told him prior to the plea that if convicted, he would face mandatory life in prison.

A new trial date has been set for Dec. 12. Sagastume represented himself during the first trial. This time he has asked that Attorney James Long serve as his court-appointed public defender with Sagastume serving as co-counsel.

According to state sentencing guidelines, Sagastume, 25, was actually facing a minimum of 16 ¾ years to life in prison for his initial charge – second degree murder with a firearm. Cox, who acknowledged the mistake during a hearing on Oct. 29, approved Sagastume’s request to withdraw his initial plea.

“There is always confusion when people are charged with one charge and plead to a lesser included because they have different maximum sentences,” Cox explained in an email sent to Vero Beach 32963.

According to Indian River Sheriff reports, Sagastume, of the 2400 block of 24th Court, is accused of fatally shooting a friend, Jeffrey Rose, 25, in the back of his head and dumping the body near Filthy’s Fine Cocktails & Beer on 16th Street on Dec. 3, 2016. Sagastume then attempted to ram into two sheriff deputies while fleeing in an RV. He eventually crashed the vehicle on Interstate 95 where it burst into flames.

Sagastume, who also goes by the name Tyler Park, represented himself in the initial case with the help of Assistant Public Defender Dorothy Naumann.

Sagastume, who previously testified that he graduated from the State University of New York with a degree in criminal justice, informed Cox that he again wants to represent himself during his new trial, but this time as co-counsel to Long.

According to reports, Sagastume, Rose and two other males were drinking in Filthy’s bar earlier in the evening. Later, all four males returned to Sagastume’s RV where they were “acting all cool, swinging their guns around,” a witness told investigators.

Sagastume previously testified in court that he was playing with a loaded .380-caliber handgun when the gun discharged, killing Rose.

He told Cox that he pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charges to acknowledge the accident and avoid trial for second-degree murder, which he believed at the time carried a life sentence.

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