Jury finds Bradenton man guilty of second-degree murder in strangling death

Herald Staff WritersJune 28, 2014 

MANATEE -- A 26-year-old Bradenton man showed no emotion after he was found guilty of second degree murder Friday for strangling his girlfriend nearly two years ago.

A jury of four women and two men determined that Cornelius Baskin killed Regina Nunez, 23, in her apartment at the Bayshore on the Lakes at 4203 24th St. W. in Bradenton. After a week of testimony it took the jury 4 hours to bring back a verdict.

On the right side of the courtroom, where Nunez's family and friends sat, a man in a yellow T-shirt wiped his eyes with his left hand after the verdict was read. No one made a sound, but a few people were visibly emotional as they filtered out of the courtroom.

Ywonza Savage found her daughter's body July 7, 2012 after going to check on her when she learned from his father that Baskin had been hospitalized.

Her daughter had been dead for nearly 24 hours.

After she left the Manatee County Judicial Center, Ashia Johnson, who described Nunez as her best friend, said she was pleased with the verdict.

"I can finally have some relief. I know she does -- the family does," the 35-year-old said. "Something was stolen

from us that we'll never ever get back and giving us this closure ... we want to forgive and move on."

Johnson was friends with Nunez for about 8 years. She described the victim as a "loving, caring, beautiful person."

"She wouldn't hurt nobody," Johnson said.

Defense attorney Mark Lipinski, who said he was disappointed with the verdict, chose not to go forward with sentencing. He said he has various motions to file. Judge Charles Roberts said motions will need to be filed by July 16. He set sentencing for July 23.

"If we have to appeal, we believe we're going to prevail," Lipinski said.

During closing arguments, Assistant State Attorney Art Brown reviewed the evidence he believed linked Baskin to the murder.

"It's not just that his DNA is there ladies and gentlemen," Brown said. "It's that it's everywhere."

He also referred to the other DNA found on Nunez's clothing at the time of her death.

"But on her neck, where we would expect to find the killer's DNA, there is no one else's," Brown said.

A little bit of the truth leaks out when Baskin first spoke to detectives, he said.

"She's on the bed the last time he saw her, because that is the last place he saw her," Brown said.

Brown also reminded the jury how Baskin's cell phone was connecting to a tower near the victim's home in the hours surrounding her death. In the morning, his phone was connected to the tower near his sister's home and later that day to his parents' home, both confirmed to be accurate by testimony.

Brown argued that text messages extracted from the smashed cell phone show the last exchange between Baskin and Nunez was just after noon.

"There is no point of calling or texting someone he knows is dead," Brown said.

In the early hours the following day, Baskin was taken to Manatee Memorial Hospital by his father and admitted to the psychiatric ward.

"Who goes to the hospital because they can't sleep," Brown said. "Obviously, it's something significant in his life, but he doesn't reach out to his girlfriend."

Lipinski argued it was no surprise that Baskin's DNA was on his girlfriend's body since the two lived together.

The smashed phone he argued was not a way to get rid of evidence.

"Why in the world if you wanted to get rid of evidence, why would you leave it there?" Lipinski asked.

The defense also argued that there was some evidence of forced entry.

"Why would my client have to break in to enter?" Lipinski said. "But somebody else would, and that would be the true murderer."

A few hours after the verdict was read, Nunez's uncle Tony Savage said he felt it was just.

"It was a bittersweet feeling," the 45-year-old said over the phone Friday night. "He was found guilty but -- no matter what -- she will no longer be with us."

Savage said he feels for the Baskin family as well.

He described Nunez as both caring and loving.

"She always looked to be sweet and kind to people she never knew. That's a quality you don't see in too many people," he said. "It just came natural for her to always have a soft, kind spot in her heart for any and everyone."

Jessica De Leon, Herald Law Enforcement Reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

Amaris Castillo, Law Enforcement/Island Reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.

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