A profoundly deaf man serving a prison sentence for murder in Florida had hoped to be released today. Supporters of Felix Garcia, 53, claim that Garcia’s brother framed him for the murder and were hoping that during a parole board hearing on Wednesday, he would be given his freedom. Instead, the Florida Commission on Offender Review reduced Garcia’s parole date by one year and changed his parole hearing to take place every three years instead of every five. The board also moved Garcia to a different prison. Although it is unknown when the move will take place, it is known that his new home will be the Sumter Correctional Institution or the Wakulla Correctional Institution.
Garcia, deaf since the age of three, is currently serving a sentence of life in prison after being found guilty of murdering Joseph Tramontana Jr. during the commission of a robbery in Tampa, Florida, in 1981. Advocates for Garcia claim that it was in fact Garcia’s brother, Frank Garcia, who murdered Tramontana and blamed Felix Garcia for the crime, even though Felix had two witnesses who verified his alibi, which covered a seven-hour time span during which he was with his girlfriend, their infant daughter and his girlfriend’s mother six miles from the scene of the crime.
Felix Garcia’s name entered the initial investigation via a pawn shop receipt for a ring stolen from Tramontana, which Frank Garcia had asked Felix to sign, causing his license information to be filed along with the stolen item. In addition, Frank resembles Felix and was asked to implicate Felix in the crime by an accomplice who has since died.
According to Felix Garcia’s attorney, Reggie Garcia, who took Felix’s case pro bono, the accomplice was the boyfriend/pimp of the brothers’ sister, Tina. He implicated Frank Garcia in the crime and then forced Tina to blame both brothers by threatening to kill her. After the death of the accomplice, Frank and Tina came forward and both gave affidavits in which they recanted their earlier version of the crime and said that Felix had played no part in it. Frank himself is serving a long prison sentence for the crime.
Felix Garcia’s supporters claim that he did not receive a fair trial. Although he was given a hearing aid and speakers in the courtroom were turned up, advocates claim that Garcia’s deafness prevented him from fully understanding the courtroom proceedings. Reggie Garcia claims that the trial was nothing but white noise to Garcia, who answered “yes” to questions that would hurt his case but which he could not hear, believing that cooperating with attorneys would allow the trial to finish more quickly so that he would be free sooner. As he watched his sister testify, he wrongly believed that she was speaking on behalf of his defense.
According to his attorney, Felix was not provided a sign language interpreter during the trial. Because he was unable to communicate, he was unable to give details of his alibi during his trial. In addition, at the time of the court proceedings, Reggie Garcia says that Felix had the reading and comprehension level of a fourth-grader. At the end of the trial, Felix received a sentence for the armed robbery of 99 years and a life sentence for the murder.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Reggie Garcia told the Florida parole commission that Felix Garcia has been a model inmate and has earned more than 30 Florida Department of Corrections certifications. His client was not present during the hearing.
The next parole hearing for Felix Garcia is scheduled for 2017. No hearing has been scheduled for commutation of his sentence and possible freedom by the governor.
By Jennifer Pfalz