Attorney Jose Baez joins the defense team for 18-year-old charged in death of Sgt. Kunovich

Nationally-known lawyer Jose Baez has joined the defense team for Vergilio Aguilar Mendez, the 18-year-old migrant charged with manslaughter in the death of St. Johns County Sgt. Michael Kunovich.

Baez filed a written plea of not guilty to the manslaughter charge and the other charge of resisting police. Aguilar Mendez’s attorneys have pushed for the charges he is facing to be dropped.

Baez is best known for representing Casey Anthony and Aaron Hernandez. He’s most recently been in the news locally because he’s representing Shanna Gardner, who’s accused of hiring a hit man to kill her ex-husband, Jared Bridegan.

Aguilar Mendez is accused of resisting an officer with violence and aggravated manslaughter of an officer after a confrontation with St. Johns County Sergeant Deputy Michael Kunovich happened in May 2023.

RELATED | Civil attorney for 18-year-old migrant accused in St. Johns County deputy’s death says client was racially profiled | National media attention brings new scrutiny to confrontation between migrant, St. Johns County deputy seen in video

An autopsy has found that Kunovich may have had a heart attack before the encounter with Aguliar Mendez. Kunovich died after a struggle to detain the 18-year-old. Previous reports said Kunovich had damaged arteries and an irregular heartbeat and the medical examiner said the circumstances did not fully meet the criteria for a homicide manner of death. The report found scar tissue on his heart consistent with a heart attack.

Aguilar Mendez has not yet been arraigned. He’s currently getting treatment at the Volusia County jail after being ruled not competent for prosecution. The case has received national attention and more than 600,000 people signed an online petition calling for Aguilar-Mendez to be released.

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