The Florida Constitution grants the governor authority to grant pardons or commute punishments with the approval of two members of the Cabinet. But this doesn’t happen very often. Only six people in the past 10 years who were convicted on murder charges have had their sentences commuted. There’s a case making news this week, however, on which Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet should be aligned to right a big wrong.
Felix Garcia, a 52-year-old deaf Floridian whose brother and sister framed him for murder and have since admitted to doing so, has been behind bars for 32 years.
Behind bars with a 7-hour alibi that places him six miles away from the crime scene with his girlfriend, their 6-month old daughter, and his girlfriend’s mother, and — at least briefly — with a Domino’s Pizza delivery man.
But Garcia, sitting deaf in a Tampa courtroom in 1983, did not know to say so.
He could not understand the proceedings. He was not provided with a sign language interpreter. He had a fourth grade reading and comprehension level. He experienced the entire trial as noise. He answered, “yes” to indicting questions, which he could not hear, because he thought his cooperation would speed up the trial, so he could go home sooner.
When Felix saw his sister Tina take the stand, he assumed she was doing so to come to his defense. On that, too, he was wrong.
The only piece of evidence against Felix: a pawnshop ticket that his brother Frank asked Felix to sign. It was for a ring that Frank had stolen from the murder victim, Joseph Tramontana Jr.
Knowing nothing about the ring’s origins and willing to oblige, Felix’s license was filed with the ring at the Tampa Gun and Pawn Shop.
His life would forever change. He was given 99 years for armed robbery and a life sentence for murder.
Frank was imprisoned, too, but on lesser charges. Over time, Frank and Tina each came clean. In 1989 and again in 1996, Frank admitted under oath that Felix had nothing to do with the shooting or robbing of Tramontana Jr. In 1996, Tina did the same.
But those attempts to absolve Felix were in vain.
Today, Felix’s case has rallied the attention and support of some big players: Pat Bliss, a retired paralegal, has been working to secure Felix’s freedom for 17 years; Reggie Garcia, trial attorney extraordinaire, has taken on the case pro bono; Ballard Partners and Sachs Media Group have joined the team as pro bono advocates to see that the right thing is done.
Felix Garcia’s story has a Shakespearian — even a Biblical — air about it. Think Cain and Abel, or the story of Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers. Or Edgar and Edmund in King Lear. All involve a man being done wrong by his brother. Vindication ultimately comes for Joseph and Edgar. Differently, if you can call it that, for Abel.
But no matter how many times Frank apologies to Felix or tries to right the wrong, the power to do so lies elsewhere now.
Gov. Scott and Florida Cabinet hold the only keys to exoneration for Felix Garcia. They should take mercy, remedy this injustice, and free an innocent man.