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Murder, robbery charges dropped against man who sat in jail for nearly five years awaiting trial

August 15, 2012 – By Jason Riley – The Courier-Journal

After spending nearly five years waiting for his trial in the slaying of a woman in August 2007, Carlos Lagantta walked out of Jefferson Circuit Court a free man Wednesday after prosecutors reluctantly dropped murder and robbery charges against him.

“I can’t even explain it,” Lagantta said of his feelings. “I’m ready to get my life back.”

While a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said officials still believe Lagantta “had a role” in the slaying, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Alice Jones told Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Audra Eckerle on Wednesday that prosecutors dropped the main charges against him in the “interest of justice,” as DNA evidence pointing to another possible suspect emerged in recent months.

Still, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said it would re-indict Lagantta if any more evidence surfaces.

Earlier this year, testing demanded by Lagantta’s defense attorney showed that DNA found under the fingernails of the victim, Tina Tatro, did not match Lagantta, pointing instead to a key witness against him. Prosecutors said there are no plans to charge that man.

Lagantta, who has other felony convictions, pleaded guilty Wednesday to tampering with physical evidence and third degree burglary, for stealing items from Tatro’s home. He was sentenced to three years, which he has already served. The rest of the almost five years Lagantta spent in jail was credited to another case in which he had violated his parole.

Asked why he would plead guilty to any charges in a case in which he has long maintained his innocence, Lagannta said, “I just wanted to get it over with.”

He has admitted to having been in Tatro’s home before the murder, but said he had nothing to do with her death, according to court records.

Kesha McClain, a cousin of Lagantta’s who was with him in court Wednesday, said she always knew he was innocent of the murder and would “eventually be free. It just took too long.”

None of Tatro’s friends or family was in court Wednesday. Jones said she is trying to reach Tatro’s daughter, who lives in Indiana.

Lagantta’s case was one of the five oldest pending criminal cases in Jefferson County, according to the state Administrative Office of the Courts. His trial was scheduled to start in November.

The investigation of the case — and the length of time Lagantta spent in jail awaiting trial — drew criticism not only from his defense but also from Eckerle, who showed her anger in April after Jones asked that Lagantta’s shoes be seized, suggesting that they still might tie him to bloody footprints left at an Old Louisville crime scene.

“It’s very frustrating when there are bloody footprints at a murder scene and five years go by without any real investigation into the circumstances,” Eckerle said then. She granted the request but allowed Lagantta to be released on home incarceration.

Jones said Wednesday the testing of the shoes was inconclusive.

Lagantta’s attorney, Ryan Vantrease, said Wednesday that, “while we were definitely upset about the delay in resolving Carlos’ case, we were happy that the current prosecutor did the right thing by dismissing the homicide related charges.”

“It’s discouraging,” Lagantta said of the time he awaited trial. “People weren’t doing their job in a timely manner.”

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