The Interrogation August 11, 1981

This was taken from Pat Bliss’ ongoing serialization of the Felix Garcia story, as it appears on her page. It’s so good, I decided to put it on the scroll as well. Enjoy.
Photo courtesy of Mother Jones / Pat Bliss

The Interrogation August 11, 1981

When Felix arrived at SOC at approximately 12:40 a.m., August 11, 1981,  he was placed in a small room with Det. Kevin Fitzpatrick and Det. Luis and Det. Nelm for questioning. Felix described the room. In fact, he drew me a picture of it – a book shelve on one wall and a table in the middle, with himself sitting on one side. Officers sat across from him. I could picture him looking around to see what was next. He was charged with First Degree Murder and Armed Robbery. He told me he had no idea what murder meant as he had not heard the word before.

Det. Nelm stated in the police report Felix was read his Miranda Rights, also called a Consent to Interview Form. In the 1983 trial transcripts on this same subject, Det. Fitzpatrick testified:

Q. Did you read Mr. Garcia’s Constitutional Rights, sir?

A. Yes, sir, I did.

Q. Did it appear to you Mr. Garcia had any problems understanding what you were telling him, sir?

A. No, sir.

But did Felix really  understand his rights?  In an off the record comment by Det. Fitzpatrick:

Q. Was he asked if he understood his rights?

A. Yes, he was.

Q. Did he reply “Yes”?

A. He indicated that he understood his rights.

Det. Fitzpatrick said Felix “indicated” he understood. That comment was never cleared as to what Felix did to indicate – a nod of the head? So when I asked Felix on one of my legal visits to the county jail on August 15, 1998,  if his rights were read, my notes reflect his answer was “I didn’t know what they were until I  got to prison.” I said did you sign a confession? Felix replied no. Anything written down? He said no. That is true, no form was signed as verified by Det. Fitzpatrick:

Q. Did you have him sign the rights card?

A. No. I didn’t.

Q. Did you have him sign a Consent to Interview form?

A. Not that I recall.

Since the officers were satisfied Felix had his Rights read and understood what they were, they were ready to begin to question him. As Det. Fitzpatrick testified:

Q. But did you, in fact, at anytime find out if he wanted to talk to you? Did he say he would talk to you?

A. Based on past experience, having advised him of his rights, having had the defendant tell me that he understood his rights, until such time as he said he wanted an attorney, I felt free to ask him any questions I wanted to ask him.

The questioning began and in the police report it briefly states:

“Mr. Garcia’s only statement was that the ring he sold to the Tampa Gun and Pawn Shop was a ring he had bought on 22nd St. from an unknown person. Mr Garcia declined to discuss any information concerning the murder and requested an attorney at that point. Writer did not question Mr. Garcia any further.”

The trial transcript of Det. Fitzpatrick’s testimony went into a little more detail:

Q. What did you ask him, if you recall?

A. I asked him is he knew the victim. I asked him about any possible involvement that he might have in the case. I asked him about how he might have come in contact with the jewelry.

Q. And what was Felix Garcia’s response?

A. He stated that he got the jewelry on 22nd Street. He denied having any knowledge of the victim, denied having any involvement in the case…

At the beginning of my legal visits,  I had asked Felix to write out what he remembered when arrested and at the interrogation. These are his exact words and he numbered his comments:

1. Everyone was talking at once – could not understand. I told them to “one person has to speak at a time, I can’t understand.”

2. He [an officer] said something about 22nd street and I said “yes that’s what their saying.”

3. He asked me to speak to god that he was going to give me time. When he closed the door the light flashed and I knew something was there. I cleared  my throat a couple of times and the light flashed.

4. I didn’t know god back then but I prayed and told the truth about everything I knew.

[Author’s note: I was a little stunned to see what Felix wrote concerning God. This is what he thought was asked of him in the interrogation. Misunderstanding words is so very common for the deaf. In other notes I see where he said “one officer would be nice and the other would be mean. That they kept saying ‘you do know’ and I would say ‘I don’t know’.” He said he didn’t ask for an attorney [didn’t know he needed one]. He did what all deaf typically do, though, be agreeable.  It was his custom to try to follow someone’s speech, to grasp a word here and there of what he thought he understood, watch facial expressions and then make some sense out of it. However,  it does appear from my notes that Felix’s memory about his interrogation was not reminiscent of the details by the officers.

What went on in the interrogation room will never be known.  Det. Fitzpatrick had testified nothing was written down nor was it taped. This hurts, because the interrogation of Felix Garcia was what others said  he said  – the officers, Ray, Tina  – and no external proof to show otherwise. Being deaf is not fair in the judicial system.]

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