SALEM, Mass. - A week into the trial, and moments before closing arguments were expected, a judge issued a verdict of "not guilty" for a Lawrence man accused of killing his estranged wife's lover.
Salem Superior Court Judge Thomas Dreschler issued a directed verdict, saying there was insufficient evidence presented at the trial of Jose Urena, 51, even in the light most favorable to prosecutors.
Urena's defense attorney filed a motion for "finding of not guilty." Dreschler issued his decision, allowing the motion, around 10:45 a.m.
Urena was taken into custody to check for outstanding warrants but was expected to be released as a free man later Tuesday morning.
Defense attorney James Budreau applauded the judge's decision and said no evidence was presented during the trial to show Urena "had any malice" toward Santana-Peguero.
"There was no evidence he ever threatened him or ever had any physical confrontation with him," Budreau said.
Urena was charged with the New Years Eve 2017 murder of Jeffrie Santana-Peguero, 21, in Lawrence.
Charged with first-degree murder, Urena had faced life prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
Urena’s estranged wife was dating Santana-Peguero. Rosa Urena was pregnant with Santana-Peguero’s child at the time of his murder, according to an affidavit filed by police in the case.
Budreau said Urena asked his wife to make a choice. Also, no physical evidence connected him to Santana-Peguero's murder.
Budreau praised prosectors Christian Ronan and Erin Bellavia saying "the Commonwealth was excellent in their presentation but it just did not meet the legal burden required here."
Reaction on the directed verdict was not immediately available from District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett's office.
This is a developing story. A complete account will appear online and in print editions of The Eagle-Tribune.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.