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Stenographer Error Gives Convicted Florida Murderer New Trial

Hemera/Thinkstock(MIAMI) -- A Florida man convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison will get a new trial, all thanks to a court stenographer who erased the entire transcript of his murder trial.

Randy Chaviano, 26, of Hialeah, Fla., was convicted by a jury in July 2009 of fatally shooting Charles Acosta, who came to his apartment to buy drugs.

Chaviano appealed his conviction to the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami.  When it was discovered that hardly any transcripts of his trial proceedings existed, the court last week threw out his conviction and life sentence, and ordered that he get an entirely new chance to go before jurors.

Any traces of Chaviano’s trial all but disappeared from the Miami-Dade courthouse’s records, officials say, because the court reporter for the case, Terlesa Cowart, failed to capture the trial on paper.

Cowart, a court spokeswoman told the Miami Herald, put the trial transcript on an internal disc instead, and then erased the data from the stenography machine’s memory disc.  She did back the disk up on her computer, but a virus on the computer later erased all of her notes.  All that remained was a transcript of one pretrial hearing and the trial’s closing arguments.

“The rest is lost forever,” Chaviano’s attorney, Harvey Sepler, wrote in court documents.

For now, court stenographers in Miami-Dade are required to use machines that capture their work both on paper and the internal disc used by Cowart.  The county is currently pushing, against the wishes of stenographers, to replace the old human, paper and disk model with digital recorders instead.

The firm that employed Cowart at the time of the trial, Goldman Naccarato Patterson Vela & Associates Inc., told the Herald their employee had a history of not bringing enough of the paper stenographers use to chronicle the proceedings.  Cowart has since been fired from the firm.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office apologized for the error: “The overturning of a murder conviction always means terrible pain for the victim’s family and frustration for prosecutors and police officers.  Overturning a murder conviction because of a court reporter’s problem creates a brand new level of pain and frustration,” a spokesman told the Herald.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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