Florencio Rolan's luck ran out yesterday.
The former death row inmate, who won a new trial in the fatal shooting of a Fairmount drug dealer, was found guilty of first-degree murder - a conviction that carries a mandatory life prison sentence. Rolan, 50, shook his head slightly in apparent disbelief when the verdict was announced by a Philadelphia jury of seven women and five men.
Rolan had come within hours of execution in 1995 in the same case - the 1983 killing of Paulino Santiago - but he won a last-minute reprieve and pressed forward with his appeals, ultimately winning the retrial that ended yesterday.
Assistant District Attorney Mark Gilson was buoyed by the verdict. He said that Rolan, who also had another murder conviction reversed, had gotten "more breaks than he deserved" in the criminal justice system. "Rolan's luck has finally run out, and thank goodness for that," said Gilson.
Defense lawyer Samuel Silver called the verdict "devastating" but promised a new appeal.
"He knows we'll be fighting for him for a long time to come," said Silver.
The retrial was ordered last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit because of ineffective lawyering by Rolan's previous defense lawyer during his 1984 trial.
The shooting occurred in an abandoned house near 17th and Wallace Streets after Santiago and Rolan argued over the sale of a $5 bag of marijuana at a nearby drug corner.
Rolan had wanted to present testimony during his 1984 trial that the shooting had been in self-defense, and the Third Circuit concluded that his lawyer back then had been ineffective for failing to investigate possible self-defense witnesses.
This week, the defense presented the testimony of a man who supported that claim. But the witness, Daniel Vargas, is dead, so his 1996 testimony during Rolan's effort to get a new trial was read into the record.
Vargas had testified that Rolan entered the abandoned house with only a quart of beer, and that Paulino Santiago, carrying a kitchen knife, went into the house, threatening to kill Rolan.
Common Pleas Judge Kathryn Streeter Lewis scheduled sentencing for Feb. 7.
Rolan's other murder conviction was for the November 1975 slaying of 16-year-old Edward Muldor at 17th and Green Streets, about a block from where Santiago died.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his third-degree murder conviction, and Rolan pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, a charge that carried a shorter sentence. Gilson said that Rolan had been out of prison only about two months before Santiago was killed.