Longform

The Bad Shoot

Page 3 of 5

The next morning Torres woke to the luminous sight of his two little girls. He tried to convince Patsy he was okay, but he was only speaking of his physical condition. When he was better, it was a police officer, not a nurse, who wheeled him out. Nothing was okay. It was his last day of freedom -- Christmas Eve, 2000. Ironically, Travis Allen, the unscathed drug dealer who was targeted by the GIU investigation in the first place, was out on bond two days later, though a subsequent arrest at Torres's bond hearing (where he was going to testify on Hector's behalf), landed him back in the slam for violating parole. Allen was ultimately convicted on a drug trafficking charge.

A public defense

The charge against Hector was aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer with a firearm. The circumstantial stuff looked bad, plus he had a bumpy record. Although he'd never been convicted of a felony before the shooting incident, he had fallen for burglary and "violating probation" -- he hadn't completed his "advocate" program of fines and public service before moving to Miami from Tampa. His choice of friends was also shady; Torres didn't deny that he'd hung around with dealers and guns before, which didn't help his credibility in the eyes of the court. Louis Vucci, one of two public defenders (the other was William Barzee) appointed to handle Torres, didn't try to excuse their client's befriending of a dealer, or hanging out at his pad during a narc bust, but said the physical evidence was all on Hector's side. They were relying on his statement: "I was sitting next to my paintball gun when they busted into my friend's crib." So then he caught a bullet in the dead center of his armpit. According to Torres, Dr. Stephen Cohn at Jackson Trauma, who treated Hector that night, said the location of the entry wound indicated his arms were raised, the normal "surrender" stance. "When the doctor examined me," Torres tells New Times, "he told me to get a good lawyer." (A hospital spokesperson, Lorraine Nelson, insists that Cohn is "not allowed" to comment on the "medical aspects" of the case because of "confidentiality clauses" at Jackson Memorial. Cohn did not repudiate the words attributed to him by Torres, faxed to him from New Times, but did not respond at all.)

Barzee and Vucci weren't exerting themselves much, however. But they were free, the only kind of lawyers a jailed car audio installer could afford. They both came with big-time confidence, though, like Bruce Cutler in the second John Gotti trial. Torres remembers: "They kept telling me: 'The state has no case,' every time I got anxious about their easygoing approach."

Torres had a left front row seat in Judge Victoria Sigler's Courtroom 7-4 at the Miami-Dade County Criminal Courthouse on NW 12th Street. During his trial he kept his hands in his lap, sitting quietly attentive. Barzee and Vucci, his flanking saviors, preferred that demeanor -- calm, confident, but at the court's mercy -- to mitigate what they considered Torres's hard-knock looks.

Prosecutor Stephanie Silver presented her case. The defendant and his counsel listened to the state's main witness, Sergeant Picallo, but of the three only Torres looked antsy. Twice in his career before running into Torres, Picallo had encountered gun-slinging crooks and made them pay. In cases SI-1989-0357 and SI-1994-0165, he was cleared in both instances. Now Picallo testified that Torres had brandished a paintball gun, which he confused with a "submachine gun," in one hand, and the .25 Lorcin in the other.

The officer sat on the stand showing how Torres threatened his life: "He's got guns in each of his hands and I start yelling, 'Police, put the guns down!' and he started raising them in my direction," Picallo explained. The officer stuck both index fingers out, thumbs pointed up at 90 degrees, extended his arms, and swung them on the jury.

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Humberto Guida
Contact: Humberto Guida