The trial of accused Miami cop killer Dennis Escobar took a stunning twist Tuesday when lawyers revealed that a 25-year-old police audio tape had surfaced that could taint the suspect’s confession.
The unmarked cassette tape, discovered in an evidence box Sunday night, appears to depict Escobar telling a Miami homicide detective that he wanted to talk to his lawyer.
The encounter contradicts the detective’s long-held story that Escobar, while in a jail hospital bed in April 1988, agreed to speak with him if he returned the following week. Escobar, prosecutors said, confessed in detail three days later to the murder of Miami Officer Victor Estefan.
The tape, which was immediately turned over to Estefan’s attorney Monday, has delivered enough of a blow to prosecutors’ case that they offered Escobar a deal: plead guilty and accept life in prison over a possible death sentence.
Escobar and his attorney, Phillip Reizenstein, will announce Wednesday morning whether they’ll accept the plea offer or ask the judge to throw out the confession.
Testimony in the long-awaited trial began last week. Jurors have been asked to return Wednesday afternoon.
Escobar, 52, is accused of fatally shooting Estefan after the veteran officer pulled him and his brother, Douglas Escobar, over in a stolen Mazda in Little Havana in March 1988.
Douglas Escobar, who’s still awaiting trial in Miami-Dade, is accused of ordering his brother to shoot. At the time, Douglas Escobar was wanted for armed robbery.
The Escobars originally were convicted and sentenced to death. But the Florida Supreme Court threw out the convictions in 1997, saying the brothers should have been tried separately.
At the time, the high court declined to throw out Dennis Escobar’s confession, but did chastise Miami homicide detectives for making “various misrepresentations of fact” during their interview with him.
The Escobars fled to California after the police shooting, where they were wounded in a shoot-out with highway patrol troopers about 180 miles north of Los Angeles.
A passenger in the car told authorities that the Escobars admitted to killing a Miami police officer.
Within hours of the revelation, Miami homicide detectives Jorge Morin and Bruce Roberson flew to California to interview the men as they lay in jail hospital beds.
The detectives, along with California investigators, approached Dennis Escobar on Friday April 29, 1988. Morin claimed that he read him his Miranda rights, which informs a suspect that he can remain silent.
Over the course of decades of court hearings, Morin always claimed that Escobar agreed to speak without a lawyer — but only if the detectives returned the following Monday.
That day, the detectives returned and again informed Escobar of his right to remain silent. He agreed, and denied involvement in the case.
But as they left the jail facility, Escobar had corrections officers hail Morin and Roberson to return to the hospital room. In that second encounter, Escobar denied being in the stolen car, blaming his brother. Again, the detectives left.
Corrections officers again stopped Morin and Roberson before they left, saying Escobar had agreed to talk once more. In that third interview, Escobar admitted to shooting the Miami cop on his brother’s order.
Miami detectives then tracked down the stolen car used in the shooting, finding Douglas Escobar’s fingerprint inside.