TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A deaf man serving a life sentence for murder was framed by his brother, supporters of the inmate insist, but in a surprise twist, a third brother showed up to a parole hearing Wednesday and said both his siblings are guilty.
Felix Garcia didn't receive a fair trial in the 1981 Tampa slaying for which both men are imprisoned, his advocates say. Garcia was given a hearing aid, and a courtroom speaker was turned up. But lawyers say he still couldn't understand the proceedings.
"He is totally innocent," lawyer Reggie Garcia, who isn't related to the brothers, said. "Felix Garcia has an alibi before, during and after the murder."
The board decided Wednesday to move up Garcia's potential parole date by one year, to 2025. He will get another hearing in three years. They did not move up the date for brother Frank Garcia, serving a 99-year sentence with a potential 2026 release date. His case will be reheard in seven years.
The third brother, Mike Garcia, and sister Tina Daniels spoke only in the proceeding for Frank Garcia.
"You know your family members — when they're telling the truth and when they're not telling you the truth," Mike Garcia said. "People can bull crap, I understand that. People are con artists, I understand that. I know my brother Frank. I know my brother Felix. I know Francisco Garcia did not pull that trigger."
A commission member asked if that meant Felix participated. "Yes. Yes, they were both there at that time," Mike Garcia answered.
After the hearing, he told reporters that he believed Felix is the person who killed Joseph Tramontana Jr.
"That's what I've heard over the years. I wasn't there," he said. "I know my brothers, and that's it. "
It's a vastly different story than lawyers presented. They said Felix Garcia had two witnesses placing him six miles away from the motel where the murder happened. Frank Garcia; his sister, Tina; and her boyfriend, Ray Stanley participated in the crime and framed Felix, the lawyers said. They say Frank Garcia gave Felix the victim's ring to sell, and the pawn shop slip tied him to the crime.
Neither the sister nor Stanley was charged, and Stanley has since died.
Frank Garcia later admitted Felix wasn't involved in the murder, the lawyers also said.
But prosecutor Mark Ober said the affidavit Frank Garcia signed on behalf of Felix was part of a plot to get his brother out so he could sue the state and then help seek Frank's release.
After the hearing, Pat Bliss — who has fought 18-years on Felix' behalf — approached Garcia's siblings and said she was shocked they didn't speak for Felix, too. "He never asked us," Daniels said.
"He feels like he's been deserted by his family," Bliss said.