MIAMI – A jury acquitted a former handyman of attempted murder charges Wednesday in last year's near-fatal shooting of Latin songwriter Estefano, who had positively identified the man in court as his assailant.
The wife and friends of 31-year-old Francisco Oliveira Jr. erupted with shouts of joy and tears after the innocent verdict was read after less than three hours of deliberation. Oliveira buried his head in his hands and wept, then tightly hugged his wife, Andrea Romer.
"Many thanks, many thanks," she said in Spanish.
Oliveira had faced between 25 years and life in prison if convicted of the May 2007 attack at Estefano's waterfront mansion that left the songwriter wounded in the chest and head.
Estefano, 40, whose real name is Fabio Salgado, has composed and produced hit songs for many of the Latin music world's biggest stars: Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony and many others.
Oliveira's attorney, Frank Rubio, said the verdict showed there wasn't enough evidence to back up Estefano's testimony, which was also marked by questions about the accuracy of the songwriter's memory because of the shooting.
"There was no other evidence," Rubio said. "A jury was able to see that and come to the correct verdict."
Prosecutor Michael Von Zamft said he thought he had proven Oliveira's guilt, even though there were no other eyewitnesses, no fingerprints and no gun was ever recovered.
"We thought there was certainly enough evidence to convict this person of this crime. The jury chose to ignore it," he said.
Oliveira was taken into U.S. immigration custody after the verdict. Rubio said the native of Brazil is in this country legally but now must go before an immigration judge to clear up issues related to the charges brought against him.
Estefano testified during a five-day trial that he was shot once and then forced to get down on his knees before the second shot was fired as he begged for his life. He referred to Oliveira, whom he had known for years, by his nickname.
"Junior shot me!" Estefano told friends who came to his rescue, according to trial evidence. Estefano was hospitalized in critical condition initially but has recovered sufficiently to testify.
Although only Oliveira was charged, Estefano testified that he believed the shooting was rooted in a dispute with his former business manager and a Santeria church the songwriter claims tried to steal his money. A civil lawsuit filed by Estefano earlier this year over the money dispute was settled.
"I'm not saying it's a conspiracy. But you know what? It certainly gives pause and gives a motive," Von Zamft said.
Oliveira, who worked as a handyman at Estefano's music studio, claimed he had an alibi and never went to his former boss's house the night of the shooting. He testified that he was home watching martial arts videos, although other evidence showed he had been out late that night.