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As Some Remain Hopeful For Deaf Inmate's Early Release, Others Want Different Outcome

Felix Garcia (left) with Pat Bliss (right), a retired paralegal and chief advocate for Garcia. The 56-year-old is currently serving life in prison.

Advocates for a deaf inmate currently serving a life sentence for murder say they believe he’s innocent and are optimistic he’ll be released in the next several years. But, the victim’s family is hoping for a much different outcome.

“I’m so committed to seeing this deaf man who is innocent to get free,” said Pat Bliss, a retired paralegal.

Credit Sascha Cordner / WFSU-FM
Felix Garcia’s chief advocate and retired paralegal Pat Bliss speaking to the Florida Commission on Offender Review Wednesday. She's speaking on behalf of Garcia's early release, during his latest parole hearing.

Bliss has been working for the past 22 years to free the person she now calls “son” from his life imprisonment.

Felix Garcia—who’s now in his mid-late 50s—is serving 99 years in prison for the 1981 murder of Joseph Tramontana Jr., during an armed robbery. Since the time of the murder, at the age of 19, Garcia has claimed he’s innocent.

The case has already divided the Garcia family, where some of Felix’s own siblings have testified against him at his parole hearings.

But, Garcia’s chief advocate Pat Bliss says two of his siblings have already submitted sworn statements, stating they framed him for the murder.

“We have Frank’s confession in a 1989 affidavit that he outlaid the facts of the case, saying he was the killer and Felix was innocent,” Bliss added. “In 1996, he wrote another affidavit about what happened and that Felix had nothing do with it. His sister wrote a similar affidavit about how she was coerced to testify.”

Virginia Campoamor, Marie Clark, Jonadean Gonzalez, and Emily Hobson are all sisters of Joseph Tramontana Jr., who was murdered in 1981. They argued against Felix Garcia's early release, calling him a “calculating, cold-blooded murderer.”
Credit Sascha Cordner / WFSU-FM

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But, the deceased victim’s sisters told a different story, during Garcia’s most recent parole hearing. Jonadean Tramontana-Gonzalez was one of three sisters who traveled from Tampa Bay to Tallahassee for the hearing.

“Both of the Garcia brothers continue to disrupt our lives with new versions of the planning and murder of my brother, each admitting to being the murderer while trying to clear the other,” she said, at the time. “Each of them have had special trials, where our family has listened to how one or the other has admitted to the murder, and their attorneys try to deceive the judges or parole commissioners—ignoring the facts surrounding the murder of my brother.”

Every few years, the Tramontana family comes to speak against Garcia’s early release, and the sisters say it’s taken a toll on their family. But, Virginia Tramontana-Campoamor says she knows they have to do it to help get justice for their murdered brother, Joseph, who they call “Jo Jo.”

“Our family has been represented in the hearings for over 30 years,” she said. “We are here today because this hearing is most important with the possibility of a calculated, cold-blooded murderer being set free. Our brother, Jo Jo, was one of eight children. Jo Jo—being from a large family that’s extremely close—is missed every day, and we’re very upset about the possibility of parole for the man who bragged about his murder and bragged about it to his friends and family.”

Credit Sascha Cordner / WFSU-FM
After both sides spoke, the Florida Commission on Offender Review gave their findings.

The family not only spoke against Garcia’s early release, they also asked the members of the Florida Commission on Offender Review to provide a longer period of time between the hearings.

The last hearing was in 2014. At that time, the parole board decided to lessen his sentence by a year—putting his earliest possible release date at 2025. Then, they agreed to review his case again in three years.

But, during the recent hearing this year, commissioners said Garcia’s guilt is not in dispute,they are keeping the presumptive 2025 release date, and will review the case again in 2020.

Still, Attorney Reggie Garcia—who represents Felix and has no relation to him—says there’s hope for his client since the outcome could have been worse.

Florida Clemency Lawyer Reggie Garcia.
Credit Sascha Cordner / WFSU-FM
Attorney Reggie Garcia (left)—who represents Felix and has no relation to him—speaking to reporters, as Felix's chief supporter Pat Bliss looks on.

“They [Parole commission] said let’s look at again in three years,” he said. “Let’s refer Felix to special programming in Virginia, and then no change to what’s called the PPRD, or the presumptive parole release date. So, we would have loved the presumptive parole release date to go down, but frankly, they can adjust that in either direction, hopefully down in three years.”

As for Pat Bliss, she says Felix Garcia is currently thriving in a Virginia prison, where it’s easier to communicate and there are more programs for deaf inmates. Earlier this year, Garcia had expressed frustration at not having a job yet or assigned to an improvement program. But, Bliss says things are starting to look up.

“His first year, he was not given any classes,” she said. “So, he did not do any programming. They didn’t have any classes available due to the fact that it’s a large with 3500 inmates with only so many classes and so many jobs. So, he did not have a class. He got a class this year in horticultural.”

Parole commissioners say it will be easier for them to assess the deaf inmate in three years, after they see how Garcia does with Virginia’s different programs.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.