Jurors unable to reach unanimous verdict, will resume deliberations at 8:30 a.m.

BRADENTON — After nearly eight hours of deliberation, a Manatee County jury of nine women and three men could not decide if Andres “Andy” Avalos Jr. was guilty of murdering three people.

Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty for the Dec. 4, 2014 killings, but some pointed questions that the jury posed to the judge call this into question. Under a new Florida law, a jury is required to come back with a unanimous decision to recommend capital punishment.

Jurors asked Circuit Court Judge Diana Moreland, who is presiding over the case, to define second-degree murder. Later, they asked the judge other legal questions. 

Around 8 p.m. Friday, after the jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict, Moreland ordered them sequestered. 

They will resume their deliberations Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m. 

Avalos, 36, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder for allegedly killing his wife Amber Avalos, 33; their neighbor Denise Potter, 46; and local church pastor Rev. James “Tripp” Battle, 31.

The key issue during the week long trial was the defendant’s mental state.

After he was arrested, Avalos allegedly confessed to murdering all three victims, according to police records and courtroom testimony.

Avalos’ defense team tried to prove their client was insane at the time of the murders. Prosecutors argued that each of the three murders were premeditated, and that Avalos was therefore responsible for his actions.

According to his lead defense attorney, St. Petersburg lawyer Andrew Crawford, Avalos was suffering from “delusional disorder.” Witnesses previously testified that Avalos felt that he was constantly in danger of being killed by someone.

Questions of sanity

During the trial, the defendant's father Andres Avalos Sr. testified that he once discovered his son outside, armed with a gun and standing only in his underwear as he searched for someone he thought was going to kill him. There was no one there.

Avalos also was known to mutter to himself and his parents tried to get him committed in a mental hospital about two months before he murdered the victims.

But prosecutors rebutted the claim that the younger Avalos suffered from mental illness and said that his actions did not stem from “delusion, but formed out of a jealousy fueled by months of drug and alcohol abuse.”

Avalos said that he never laid his hands on his wife, but after an argument in which she claimed that she “wasn’t afraid of him,” he got physical with her for the first time.

Prosecutors said he punched her multiple times in the face, strangled and then hung her from a cord in the laundry room.

When he thought he heard her moving, prosecutors said he went back and shot her once in the chest to make sure she was dead.

“I thought she was playing dead,” Avalos said in his confession, adding that he had already “crossed the line” so he had to make sure she was dead.

Shortly after killing his wife, as Avalos was leaving, Denise Potter, who had a cleaning service with Amber Avalos, stopped by their home, according to testimony.

After Potter walked into the home to check on Amber, Avalos allegedly shot her four times. He said he “wasn't ready” for the police to arrive. During his confession, he apologized to Potter’s sons — Matthew and Michael, according to the police.

“I really wish I hadn't hurt Denise,” Avalos Jr. said in a statement to the police. “She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The trek

Avalos then took his 4-year-old son — who allegedly witnessed both of the slayings — to his daycare. He abandoned his car at the parking lot of the Walmart at State Road 64 East and took a cab to Bayshore Baptist Church, where Battle was a pastor.

Police saw him leave in a taxi on a security camera recording.

Avalos spent 20 minutes talking to the pastor’s wife, Joy Battle, while he waited for her husband to arrive. When Battle finally arrived, Avalos met him outside, slamming the door on the way out, the pastor’s widow said.

Joy Battle tearfully testified earlier this week that she heard gunshots as Avalos murdered her husband. According to police records, Avalos shot James Battle six times.

Avalos then walked away into the woods and stayed there for two days. Police arrested him later a few miles from the church.

Joy Battle was in attendance on Friday as the jury deliberated.

Motive

In court Friday, during his closing argument, Assistant State Attorney Arthur Brown III showed the jury photos of the victims and recreated how Avalos used the murder weapon, a .45 caliber handgun.

Brown also counted the eleven bullets Avalos fired.

Avalos knew what he was doing was wrong, Brown said, because he mentioned he didn’t want the police to find him, abandoned his car off because it was “hot,” and apologized for killing Potter. Brown also argued Avalos had a motive: He’d told several people he suspected his wife was having an affair.

“Everything he did shows he knew he was violating the law,” Brown said.

Defense Attorney Andrew Crawford said Avalos' brain doesn’t work like other people’s brains work. A physician testified this week that a PET scan showed Avalos Jr.’s brain was abnormal.

Crawford said his client suffered from paranoia throughout 2014.

The defendant's father testified earlier that his son used to be outgoing, but in the previous months before the crime, he liked the lights off and the shades drawn. He also muttered to himself often and thought people were going to kill him.

Avalos' mother, Nora, testified that Amber took care of their six children and worked as a church director where Battle was a pastor, so she didn’t have time to cheat on his husband. Therefore, it was all inside her son’s head.

Members of Avalos' family were present at the courtroom. His sister broke down crying before the jury left to deliberate.

They declined to comment about the trial.