Their decision Tuesday was a resounding no — just after 6 p.m., the 12-member jury returned a verdict of not guilty.
The jury foreman, Bernard Jennings, a court-certified mediator, said he firmly believed the defense theory that Eleonora “Lina” Kaufman, 33, collapsed of a heart ailment, then fell onto a magazine rack.
“This was her stroke of luck from nature,” Jennings said, referring to a rare inflammation of the heart as described by defense medical experts.
For juror Ryan O’Donnell, the medical evidence from both sides was compelling, but there was simply nothing else to point to Kaufman, a real estate executive, as the killer.
“There just wasn’t enough evidence for anyone to say that beyond a reasonable doubt that he himself was the reason she expired,” O’Donnell said.
The acquittal was a stinging rebuke of a circumstantial-evidence prosecution and of Miami-Dade Chief Medical Examiner Bruce Hyma, whose ruling of “homicide by mechanical asphyxia” formed the crux of the state’s case.
Kaufman, 39, had been charged with second-degree murder and faced the possibility of life in prison.
“We all knew this day would come, it was just a question of when,” an emotional Kaufman, flanked by attorneys Bill Matthewman and Al Milian, told reporters after the verdict. “Today is the day.”
Said Matthewman: “It’s a wonderful day for the American justice system.”
Prosecutors believed Kaufman strangled Eleonora Kaufman, the mother of his two children, leaving marks on her neck, burst blood vessels in her eyes and a host of bruises on her body.
The morning of his wife’s death, Kaufman called 911 to report that he found his wife collapsed on the bathroom floor. She was later pronounced dead at Aventura Hospital.
At trial, paramedics testified that Kaufman acted strangely in the hours after her body was discovered, and that he gave shifting versions of how he found her body.
In the end, the state’s case relied chiefly on the medical evidence, with Hyma and four other associate pathologists testifying about the litany of injuries Eleonora Kaufman suffered, including bruises deep in the muscles of her neck.
“She was not the victim of a diseased heart,” prosecutor Matthew Baldwin told jurors Tuesday. “She was the victim of a broken neck.”