UPDATE: Felix Garcia had an interview hearing to request parole on November 19. Unfortunately, a parole release date was denied, but he did walk away with some small victories: (1) The parole commissioners will review the case again in 3 years, as opposed to the suggested 5 – 7 years; (2) The commissioners referred him to one of several facilities with special programming; (3) The commissioners reduced his parole release date by 12 months.
A deaf man whom advocates believe was falsely convicted of murder will be considered for parole tomorrow, after serving 33 years of his sentence. Advocates for the deaf and hard of hearing who are urging his release say the system failed Felix Garcia by not taking steps to ensure he could understand what was said at his trial, and it’s time justice was done.
In 1981 Felix’s brother and sister, who have since recanted and filed affidavits attesting to his innocence, framed Garcia for the murder. Despite having two witnesses testify that he was with them across town at the time of the murder and couldn’t possibly have committed the crime, Garcia was convicted in 1983 and has since served 33 years behind bars.
“Felix was at his girlfriend’s mother’s home six miles away when the crime was committed,” said Reggie Garcia, Felix’s pro bono attorney, “giving him a seven-hour alibi before, during and after the murder.”
Stemming from his hearing loss, Felix Garcia had only a fourth-grade comprehension level and didn’t have the benefit of a sign language interpreter during his interrogation or his trial. Instead, during the trial, speakers were turned up to full volume, which he experienced as incoherent noise.
Advocates say Garcia’s deafness and the court’s failure to provide adequate accommodations to allow him to understand the proceedings played a central role in his conviction.
Last March, hundreds of Floridians who are deaf or hard of hearing, their families, interpreters and advocates joined together at a news conference at the Florida Capitol to promote legislation to enhance deaf rights and to ask for justice for Garcia.
“The rights of the deaf are stripped away when they’re denied proper accommodations,” said Gary Lieffers of the Florida Association of the Deaf. “It’s incredible to me that someone who appears to be innocent could be railroaded by the system, just because he’s deaf.”
The parole hearing is set to take place on Wednesday, Nov. 19, at 9:00 a.m. at the Florida Commission on Offender Review. Additional support will come in the form of more than 100,000 Change.Org petition signatures, which will be presented by pro bono attorney Reggie Garcia and avid supporter and retired paralegal Pat Bliss.
“Our justice system failed Felix 33 years ago, but I’m hoping that this time they’ll get it right,” Pat Bliss said. “I know in my heart that he is innocent. I know he’s got a future and that he can make an impact for the deaf community.”