Evidence

Bombshell tape found during cop-murder trial sparks plea deal, but both defendants balk


Updated: Dennis Escobar got an unexpected reprieve last week for the second time in a first-degree murder case for the slaying of a Miami police officer in 1988.

An unlabeled audiotape, found Feb. 17 by a retired city homicide detective going through an evidence box as he prepared to testify, seemed to show that Escobar, speaking with the same detective in Spanish, nearly 20 years ago, had asked for a lawyer before allegedly confessing, the Miami Herald reported.

What the newspaper describes as a bombshell tape, since it seemingly contradicts earlier testimony that Escobar voluntarily spoke with the detective without a lawyer, was turned over to the defense. Prosecutors then offered a plea deal, not only to Escobar, who is facing a potential death sentence if he is convicted of murdering Victor Estefan, but his brother, Douglas, who also faces a capital case for the officer’s slaying. Prosecutors say Estefan pulled the two over in a stolen car, and Douglas Escobar, who was wanted on robbery charges, ordered Dennis Escobar to shoot the officer, another Miami Herald article explains.

Both Escobars had previously been convicted of Estefan’s murder and sentenced to be executed, but the state supreme court reversed their convictions in 1997, finding that they should have been tried separately.

On Friday, the two brothers met in court for the first time in six years, smiling at each other in the witness box, in order to accept plea deals that would have given them each a 55-year prison term, in exchange for pleading guilty. Even if they lived long enough to complete those sentences—which could have required them actually to serve only 18 years—they still would have had to return to California, where they were involved in a shootout with highway patrol officers near Los Angeles after Estefan’s murder and got life sentences without the possibility of parole, the newspaper says.

However, Douglas Escobar balked when it came time to agree to the deal. “I didn’t shoot no one,” he told Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Leon Firtel at the Friday hearing. “I don’t want to plead guilty.”

The judge eventually reset the hearing for Monday, so his lawyers could talk further with him about the deal over the weekend.

“Another weekend of agony,” said the officer’s widow, Delia Estefan, who wants to talk to the brothers after their plea deal is completed. “The days just seem so long.”

On Monday, it was a different story, as Douglas Escobar agreed to the plea deal and two court-appointed mental health experts agreed he was competent, a subsequent Miami Herald article reports. However, by then Dennis Escobar had changed his mind, and said he wants to go to trial.

Firtel has nixed a mistrial motion, ordering lawyers to go back and review evidence in the case to make sure nothing else was missed.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “25-year-old tape’s revelation prompts prosecutors to offer mid-trial plea deal”

Updated at 5:16 p.m. to include additional Miami Herald coverage.

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