Deschamps convicted of manslaughter

Mark
Deschamps

State Attorney asked jury for
first degree murder conviction in connection with 2016
stabbing death of Flavia Munoz

After five hours of deliberation, an Okeechobee jury decided on Thursday, Jan. 31, that Mark Deschamps Sr. was guilty of manslaughter rather than the sought-after verdict of murder in the first degree in the 2016 death of Flavia Munoz.

Four charges were brought before the jury: Count one was first-degree murder in the death of Flavia Munoz; count two, attempted first-degree murder of Duane Thomas; count three, assault with a deadly weapon (against Duane Thomas); and count four, assault with a deadly weapon (against Flavia Munoz).

On count one, the jury found the defendant guilty of manslaughter. On count two, they found him guilty of aggravated battery. On count three, they found him guilty of improper use of a firearm, and on count four, they found him guilty of aggravated assault with a firearm.

The charges stem from events that occurred in October 2016. Mark Deschamps made a 911 call, in which he allegedly said he had just killed everyone, then said he stabbed them. At that time, Deschamps was living in the home of Duane Thomas along with a new girlfriend, 23-year-old Flavia Munoz. Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office reports state when Lt. Shane Synder (at that time sergeant) arrived on the scene, he found Flavia Munoz inside the doorway of the home, already deceased, with a knife wound to her chest.

Deschamps’ trial began on Monday, Jan. 28, with the jury selection going on long after the courthouse normally closes for the night. On Tuesday morning, Assistant State Attorney Don Richardson made the opening statement to the jury, He told them Flavia Munoz was 23 years old when Deschamps took a hunting knife and stabbed her through the heart. He said they had surveillance video showing a heated argument between the defendant and Ms. Munoz and Mr. Thomas. He said the video would show Deschamps picking up the shotgun and threatening her with it and that they would then see him pick up the knife and stab Mr. Thomas in the face with it. He told them they would see the defendant go back later, pick the knife up again and walk across the room and out of the camera’s view, and 27 seconds later they would see Ms. Munoz run out of the house and fall down and die. He told them they would also hear the defendant make a 911 call telling the dispatcher he killed everyone in the house.

Following Mr. Richardson’s opening statement, Deschamps’ attorney Donald Chinquina had his turn in front of the jury. He told them he believed the investigation began and ended with that 911 call. He explained his client was in shock when he made the call and did not mean he killed them physically but that he felt responsible for the death because he had put Ms. Munoz in danger. He also said his client had never seen a dead body before and was confused. He wasn’t sure who had killed her at that point. He said he wanted the jury to pay close attention to the video because when his client hits Mr. Thomas, he was not stabbing him; he was punching him. He said he believed if they watched carefully they would see the two men go outside and when they came back in, the jury would see Mr. Thomas was the one who was angry, not Deschamps.

After opening statements, the jury was given the chance to listen to the 911 call and hear the defendant say, “I just killed everybody in the house.”
When asked, “who did you shoot?” he replied, “I stabbed them.”

Lt. Snyder testified when Deschamps came out of the house he said: “She’s dead. I killed her.”

The state showed the jury the video taken from the surveillance equipment in the home.

Kathleen Watson, OCSO crime scene technician, testified they found three knives on the scene. The hunting knife was approximately five inches long, she said, and the folding pocket knife was about three inches long. Mr. Chinquina said, “It’s not about three inches, is it? And Ms. Watson replied, “It’s three and a quarter inches.”

Dr. Roger Mittleman, district medical examiner, performed the autopsy and it was his opinion that the hunting knife was the murder weapon. He said he believed the other two knives were too short to have created the path of the wound.

Mr. Chinquina asked him if his method of pushing the skin back together to see if the knife fit was an exact science, and Dr. Mittleman said it was something he had taught himself over the years.

Deschamps was the only witness for the defense. He explained he had been awakened from a sound sleep by screaming coming from the living room. He said he went out there and found Ms. Munoz on the floor on her hands and knees with Mr. Thomas standing over her yelling at her. He claimed he saw Mr. Thomas wearing his class ring and that made him angry, and he went back into his bedroom where he discovered his wallet out and several hundred dollars missing. He then went out and began yelling at them both to return his money.

He said he brandished the shotgun at them but that it was broken and everyone knew it was broken. He said eventually Ms. Munoz gave him back his money and then he was no longer angry, but then Mr. Thomas was mad because she gave it to him and he kept trying to get the money back. Deschamps said he was holding a knife in his right hand as he counted the money and when Mr. Thomas came in and tried to grab the money, he punched him with his right hand. He said he didn’t realize Mr. Thomas was badly hurt until later. He claimed he and Ms. Munoz were going to leave the house but he saw Mr. Thomas at the back door and realized he was bleeding, so he went and brought him in to get cleaned up. As they were coming in the door, he noticed Mr. Thomas had his pocket knife out so he sent Ms. Munoz in the bathroom to help him get cleaned up while he got his knife. While he was getting his knife, he said he heard yelling and went back to the bathroom where he and Mr. Thomas began fighting. Then he heard Ms. Munoz yelp, and she went out the door saying, “You killed me.” He said he did not believe she was really hurt and he is not sure if she was stabbed then or if Mr. Thomas stabbed her later when he went outside alone.

State Attorney Ashley Albright and Mr. Chinquina each had a chance to sway the jury with their closing arguments, and then Judge Michael Heisey finished up by reading 40 pages explaining the definitions of the different charges and the possible lesser charges before finally sending them off to deliberate at 12:45p.m.

Mr. Albright said, “There’s no such thing as a slam dunk.” He is just relieved Deschamps was found guilty on all charges even if they were lesser charges. “That’s why we have juries,” he said. “They can weigh the evidence. I’m disappointed, but we respect whatever verdict the jury ultimately returns.”

Deschamps’ children, Mark Jr. and Chelsea, were in the courtroom every day during the trial and said their thoughts and prayers have and will continue to be with the family of the innocent young woman.

Mr. Albright said Deschamps could face a total of up to 70 years on the four convictions, if sentences are served consecutively.
Dechamps still faces a charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The sentencing date for all charges will be set after the outstanding charge is resolved.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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