A heartless man who brutally strangled and shot his wife dead before killing his neighbour and pastor after cheating rumours has been caged.
Andres “Andy” Avalos Jr. was sentenced to life in prison late Monday for the first-degree murders of his neighbor, Denise Potter, and the Rev. James “Tripp” Battle. The verdict was read after the jury of 12 deliberated for more than three hours.
On Saturday afternoon, the jury found Avalos guilty of two counts of first-degree murder for the slayings of Potter and Battle. He was also found guilty of second-degree murder in the slaying of his wife, Amber Avalos.
The punishment phase of the trial started Monday morning.
In Battle’s murder, while the jurors did find that aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating circumstances, they were not unanimous in their vote for the death penalty — with a vote of 7 to 5. In Potter’s murder, the aggravating factors were not found to have outweighed the mitigating circumstances.
A sentencing hearing for the murder of his wife, Amber, will be set for a later date. Avalos also is still facing an attempted murder charge for allegedly stabbing a fellow inmate at the Manatee County jail.
Battle’s widow, Joy, said afterward that she was pleased with the verdict.
“I’m not saying that Andy didn’t deserve death, but what we really wanted was justice. Spending life in prison is justice,” Joy Battle said. “I’m at peace.”
For her, Monday’s verdict finally put this to a close.
“I felt that this was very important for me to do, seeking justice for Tripp, and I feel like this has been seen through,”she said. “While we hurt and while we miss him and while there will always be a deficit, the three of us stand together strong, united as a family of three.”
Battle still prays for Avalos, she said.
“I hope that one day he will come to a place of knowing the Lord and it will change his heart, and that he will have true repentance about what has happened,” Joy Battle said.
She was grateful to State Attorney Ed Brodsky, Assistant State Attorney Art Brown and all the victim’s advocates who helped get them through the very difficult process, she later added.
Brodsky and Brown were disappointed with the verdict, but respected the jury’s decision, Brodsky said afterward.
“This was a case that we strongly believed in the death penalty,” Brodsky said. “We certainly believe that the actions of the defendant in this case warranted it. We still believe that way.”
Changes in Florida’s sentencing scheme while this case was being prosecuted made it more challenging, he added. The new law puts a larger burden on the state and also requires that the jury’s decision be unanimous.
Brown thought they had put on a strong case, in both phases.
“Our ultimate goal is always to safeguard the community from dangerous individuals, and I think we have done that with the fact that we have to prevent Mr. Avalos from ever harming another Manatee County citizen again,” Brown said.
For Battle’s mother, Rhonda, the verdict was also disappointing.
“I think my heart is still broken and it always will be,” Rhonda Battle said. “Even though this is over, its nice to know that it’s over, but I still miss him.”
“I’m glad we can try to heal,” Ashley Battle said. “We’ll never be whole again. We’ve lost a great loss. There’s no getting that back.”
Inside the courtroom Monday morning, jurors watched as she and others broke down in tears detailing the impact of their loss.
“He was supposed to be my permanent lifelong best friend,” Ashley Battle said through sobs. “I never imagined my life without my brother.”
In her eyes, her brother was bullet-proof, Ashley Battle said.
“I will be mourning the loss of my brother, my confidant, my protector and my best friend for the rest of my life,” she said. “I would not wish this kind of loss on anyone. I lost my whole way of living life.”
Because of the impact on other family members, Ashley Battle said she feels like she has lost so much because she has lost part of them. Her brother was her mentor, and she could tell him anything without feeling judged.
Joy Battle told the jury how the loss of her husband left a void in her and their children’s lives.
“As a mother, I have had to hold my 8-year-old daughter as she cries out for her father,” she read from her prepared statement as she began to sob. “There is a bond and a camaraderie between a father and son.”
Her son, who was 3 years old when Battle was murdered, will never have that relationship, she said.
Meg Faillace, Potter’s sister-in-law, took the stand and read her own statement, as well as those from other members of Potter’s family.
She recalled for the jury holding her two youngest nephews on Dec. 4, 2014, as they again cried for the loss of a parent. Less than three years before Potter’s murder, the boys lost their father, Potter’s husband, who died of a heart attack.
Faillace read a statement from Julie Kinkol, Potter’s aunt.
“I was in Florida the days following the murder of my niece. I witnessed first-hand the sorrow, confusion and sadness of ” her two youngest sons, Konkol wrote. “My heart broke thinking of how these little boys would spend the rest of their lives without their father and now their mother being violently snatched from them. Their lives will never be the same.”
“She won’t be there for their graduations, their first dates, their weddings, or the birth of their children,” Kinkol’s letter continued.
Potter missed the birth of her first grandchild, her eldest son’s daughter, less than a year after her murder.
“Denise will never have the chance to be a grandma,” Konkol said. “The countless people who knew and loved Denise will forever have missing from their lives her beautiful smile, her contagious love of life, and her gentle and loving soul. Our hearts ache and our eyes well up with tears thinking of what might have been.”
In the courtroom on Monday were members of Avalos’ family.
Andres Avalos Sr. told the jury about his and his wife’s troubled past, including their divorce, drinking and how they remarried after finding God. He said he started drinking when he was 12 years old and was a drunk since age 16. There was a period of eight to 10 years when they were not good parents, he said.
“My wife and I are not in denial of what our children do,” Avalos said.
But he said he had tried to get his son help.
“The most frustrating thing about this is that we shouldn’t be here and don’t need to be here,” he said, becoming emotional. “I saw it. I tried to get him help.”
Avalos’ mother — dressed in all black with dark sunglasses — thanked the jury but told them there was no right answer for what they were about to decide.