The Bad Shoot

Wrong place, wrong time, wrong perp, wrong sentence

"'Hector, you're as good as free.' That's what the public pretenders [had] said," Torres quips about his April 2001 trial. "Then it turned into 'Good luck on appeal' and 'We got a good appeal department'! [And] I never saw them again!"

The attorneys aren't saying much now. Barzee maintains he can't speak about a case going to appeal, but Vucci offered other reasons for his reluctance: "One of Torres's options now is to file a motion for ineffective assistance of counsel regarding his defense lawyers." He declined to elaborate out of concern Torres could sue for "malpractice," though he did not concede any negligence.

After their questionable defense, Torres was expecting at least one of his old lawyers to admit what had happened; when he found out they'd declined, the tough guy's eyes actually watered up as he sat behind the visitors' glass at MetroWest Detention Center. "I feel betrayed, abandoned," Torres said. He recalls how Vucci would make attempts at a more aggressive defense, but be "held back by Barzee's passive strategy." Hector expected Vucci would come forward to speak on his behalf, but burning a bridge with a convict client is easier than pissing off lawyers you've worked with before, and may again. (Barzee is now a federal public defender, and Vucci is in private practice with the Restani law firm of Miami.) As for Veloz, Picallo, and the other members of GIU, Miami-Dade Police Department spokesman Randy Rossman says they're "publicity shy" and don't want to comment, either. Picallo, however, is no longer with the elite GIU. He's a patrol sergeant in the pacific streets of Miami Lakes. Another spokesman stresses that Picallo was cleared in this case and that this is nota demotion.

La ley es igual para todos

(The law is equal for everyone) After all this, Torres could still have gotten out sooner rather than later. He passed on plea bargains that would have lowered his sentence from ten to three years with a credit for time served (setting him free this year). But the pleas included provisions that would prevent him from suing the county or state. He won't sign anything that says he's guilty, or keeps him from getting fair retribution. Torres remembers Barzee explaining to him "the way things really are," telling him that "it's not the truth that matters." But "the truth is all I have, and I can't give it up," Torres says now.

He says he doesn't want revenge, but won't speculate about the financial award he could eventually earn if he wins his appeal, about to go forward this month. (There is a statutory cap of $100,000 on cases like this.) "I don't hate these cops, or want to go after them," he says. "What I want is to go home and be with my family. If they told me, 'We made a mistake and you can go home,' I'd be fine."

About his two years in jail, Torres says, "Next time I speak to my travel agent, I'll make different arrangements. This is hell. I'm surrounded by degenerates and crackheads. It's hard to be innocent in [here]. But I've learned something -- I've learned to be humble. I believe something will come out of all of this, that's what keeps me going. And my wife has been with me every step."

So Hector is staking everything on his appeal. But before those preliminary motions begin, Torres must answer a new, separate charge -- possession of a firearm, which wasn't included in his case the first time around. (That hearing began March 26, and addresses his alleged possession of the Lorcin .25.) As for the appeal, Torres said his first request as sent to court by his new public defender, Valerie Jonas, had the wrong name on it -- "Mario Almanza" instead of "Hector Torres." Ms. Jonas said she can't comment before the case is resolved, but she explained to New Timesthat there might have been a typo, and that in any case, it's been corrected. The appeals process is moving forward.

Torres just shrugs: "Sometimes I feel like throwing my hands in the air and giving up," he says.

But he did that once, and look where it got him.

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