By Chuck Strouse
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"I said to him, 'Keep a better watch on the car'," Yera stated in a deposition.
Then things got hot. Catalino claimed Yera pulled his jacket over his head, grabbed a knife from his belt, and waved it in his face.
Yera told a different story to prosecutors. "[Catalino] said, 'I bet I will kill you' and I said, 'Kill me if you want.' He went pow, and shot me in the chest."
Wounded, Yera staggered out of the parking lot, bleeding his way down West Flagler Street. Catalino followed, fired again, and struck him in the back, piercing his lung. Yera collapsed one block later on a patch of grass. Catalino stood over him and fired twice into the ground. Yera claimed the last shot grazed his trachea, doing irreparable damage to his vocal chords. Catalino's public defender, Leonard Succar, argued the shots were meant to summon help.
Yera's medical bills exceeded $180,000. (A subsequent civil suit would bankrupt Catalino's employer).
On November 2, 1994, a jury took just an hour and nine minutes to convict Catalino of attempted murder. Two months later he was sentenced to twelve to seventeen years in prison.
Leopolda sent him money every month for cigarettes and soap. But what he wanted more than anything was paper. He wrote night and day about the case, seething about his imprisonment.
Using colored markers, he drew complicated diagrams of the crime, depicting himself in bright yellow highlighter as "victim." Menacing silhouettes were labeled "aggressor." The words "police abuse" are scrawled in bold on four drawings that are contained in his court file.
When Catalino wasn't sketching, he worked in the prison commissary and fought. In 1996, prison records show, he lost seven months of gain time for assault and fighting. However, he did manage to convince Judge Barbara Levenson that he'd been wrongly sentenced in the first place, reducing his stint to seven to twelve years.
In a 1997 letter he drafted to Levenson, he depicted himself as a "uniformed representative of the law, a Lieutenant Supervisor of Security," who had been persecuted for "serving a nocturnal potential assassin who was drunk and under the influence of drugs."
"Why do I suffer for the bad work of others?" he asked. "It is not my right and responsibility as a permanent resident of the U.S.A."
Catalino accused everyone from the Miami police sergeant who had testified that he behaved like a "perfect gentleman," to the witness who corroborated the knife story of being incompetent liars.
He begged Leopolda to find him another lawyer. "No one would take the case," she says, shaking her head. "They all told me he could have gotten off, if only he hadn't shot [Yera] in the back." He mailed her loving cards, decorated with bright coloring book cut-outs of cartoon characters. They contained poetic odes to their grandchildren, arranged so that the first line of each stanza spelled out their names.
After four years of separation Leopolda wrote him a letter asking for a divorce. He agreed, and the state soon formalized the decision. In 2001 he was released, got a construction job, and continued his legal crusade. He met a nursing home employee named Maria Castillo, and the pair moved into a little brown warren of apartments on SW Seventh Street near Sixteenth Avenue. He worked all day and was no trouble to anyone.
He occasionally pounded on the door of Leopolda's apartment. She never answered, happy to live free of his fits. "He is a good man," the 73-year-old woman sighs, gazing at an album of their Havana wedding photos. Catalino stands smartly in a white linen shirt, glowing happily, among friends and family. "He was a good father, a good husband."
Her daughter Niurka agreed, her eyes tearing up. "Please help him," she asked softly. The last time she saw her stepfather, he was shopping in a Tropical supermarket on Calle Ocho. He asked about the family and told her he would use his upcoming vacation time to travel to New York to speak with a great lawyer.
She was shocked to see him on television last Friday, handcuffed in the nation's capital. Nothing in the Secret Service complaint (the State's only evidence so far) mentions anything about a bomb, as the Irish Times alleged. "The defendant has made no statement," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela George. "He didn't really say anything while it was all going on, either."
Nevertheless on Monday Catalino was charged with "threatening with a bomb." "That's a serious, serious charge," says Shawn Moore, his public defender, who adds his client could face ten years in federal prison, if not more.
The government denied bond. Following a psychiatric evaluation, he has been deemed mentally fit to stand trial.
No one has ventured a guess about what Catalino planned to do once he reached the White House. Chances are he just wanted to tell the President about his case.