Case Of Deaf Inmate Divides Two Families; Questions Remain Decades After Murder

Nov 21, 2014

Pat Bliss (right) has been an advocate for deaf inmate Felix Garcia for 18 years.
Credit LHatter / WFSU News

The high-profile case of a deaf inmate was the subject of lengthy debate Wednesday before the Florida Commission on Offender review. The panel heard perplexing, and at times emotionally-charged testimony before deciding whether to move up parole dates for two brothers convicted for a 1980’s murder.

It’s cramped in the small room. More than 50 people have squeezed in hip-to-hip and shoulder-to- shoulder to hear the rulings of the three people who are deciding the future of 51 Florida inmates. Among the crowd are Virginia Campoamor, Marie Clark, Jonadean Gonzalez and Emily Hobson--sisters of Joseph Tremontana Jr. He was murdered more than 30 years ago. The sisters argue Felix Garcia, one of the men convicted of the crime, should never be released.

But Felix Garcia and his supporters say he is being punished for something he didn’t do. They claim because he is deaf, he didn’t understand what was happening at his trial, and that he was framed by his brother—Francisco Garcia, who was also convicted for his role in the murder. But in a twist at Wednesday’s hearing Mark Garcia, their brother, tells another story.

 “I know my brother Frank, I know my brother Felix. I’ve lived with the tempers on both of them. I know the situations they get themselves into. I know how they get themselves out of it. By my heart, I know 100 percent, Frank did not do that," Mark Garcia told the hearing panel.

Mark  was 15 when Joseph Tremontana Jr. was killed, and he believes Fernando, not Felix is the innocent one in what he describes as a drug deal gone bad. Mike and his sister Tina spoke in support of Francisco. But Felix's friend Pat Bliss, a paralegal who has advocated for Felix during the past 18 years, says she is shocked by what Mark had to say. Bliss notes the sister--Tina--never spoke up.

“She had the opportunity to make things right. She was the driver—it was she, Frank and Ray Stanley who were the three involved with this crime. They did the planning, and they were involved in this crime," Bliss says.

But Tina Garcia, whose last name is listed as Daniels on the speaker forms, was never charged. Meanwhile, Reginald Garcia, Felix’s attorney, says Tina also claimed Felix is innocent.

While the panel formerly known as the parole commission does not re-litigate crimes—it found itself having to consider the situation of both Felix and Francisco Garcia, as well as their family, the victim’s family, and whether after decades of incarceration, anything has changed. In the case of Francisco Garcia Commissioner Melinda Coonrod feels it has not.

“Francisco--he either has wrongfully implicated his brother or he has lied in an affadaivit stating that he was not. So the character of Francisco Garcia is in question with me.”

Francisco Garcia has written two affidavits and even testified at one point that he, not Felix, committed the crime. And due to the conflicting accounts, the panel opted against changing Francisco’s possible parole date. But Felix Garcia could have less time to wait. The panel set a new potential release date of 2025, a decrease of a year for his achievements inside of prison, including earning work certifications, good behavior and earning a GED.