A Tamarac man has lived through the most hellish six weeks of his life, imprisoned for a crime that new evidence suggests he did not commit.
Jorge Insua, 37, was confident after his arrest that police, prosecutors and the jury would figure out that he wasn’t the hit-and-run driver who vanished from a collision in Sunrise more than two years ago after seriously injuring a motorcyclist.
Despite his certainty, a Broward jury found Insua guilty of leaving the scene of the crash, a third-degree felony. A judge on July 18 sentenced him to five years in prison, and he was shipped to a northern Florida prison.
Things were looking bleak until a lawyer hired by his family unearthed new evidence, which triggered Insua’s release Wednesday. State prosecutors took the exceptional step of helping Insua regain his freedom.
“This has been an absolute nightmare for me and my family,” Insua, a mechanic and divorced father of two young children, said in a prepared statement Friday. “I never thought something like this could happen. I was tried, convicted and sentenced to prison for something I did not do.”
The path to Insua’s prison release began when his family, adamant that Insua was innocent, hired a Fort Lauderdale defense attorney to appeal the case. And as attorney Mike Dutko examined and found the new evidence, he began to seriously doubt Insua’s guilt.
“I was convinced that there was an innocent man in prison,” Dutko said.
One of his key findings was that nobody tested the air bag of a Toyota Tundra, the hit-and-run vehicle that was abandoned at the crash site, for DNA, Dutko said. Those tests have now been performed and results are pending.
Citing the ongoing investigation, Dutko declined to detail additional evidence he provided prosecutors.
“We want to do the right thing,” said Peter Holden, head of the felony trial unit for the Broward State Attorney’s Office. “Obviously, there was enough there at one time for a jury to convict, but new evidence has come to light since the verdict, and we feel like it should be investigated thoroughly.”
Dutko and prosecutors from the Broward State Attorney’s Office joined forces to tell a judge that Insua had presented “credible and verifiable” information supporting Insua’s claim of innocence. They asked that Insua be released while they investigate further.
Late Wednesday night, Insua was freed, upon court order, with an ankle monitor.
Dutko blames Insua’s injustice on Sunrise police investigators who he says committed “a colossal series of errors.”
For starters, Dutko says, they failed “Investigations 101″ by not having the Toyota’s air bag tested.
“Police should have done it,” Dutko said. “It’s standard procedure and protocol when an air bag has been deployed and there’s questions about identity of the driver. They simply dropped the ball.”
Sunrise police officials say they stand by their investigation.
“He can say what he wants about ‘a colossal series of errors,’” Officer Michelle Eddy, a spokeswoman for the Sunrise Police Department, said Friday. “Our stance pretty much is: The evidence was there. We had an eyewitness at the scene, we presented to the state attorney, they took the case, he was tried and convicted, and he was sentenced to five years.”
In conjunction with state prosecutors, Eddy said, the agency is now “looking into the new evidence that has come forward that was not available during the jury trial.”
The motorcyclist injured in the crash, Karl “Stephen” Smith, 38, of Plantation, said he was beyond surprised to learn of the recent turn of events.