Criminal court

Family of slain Miami cop vents pent-up anger at killer

 

dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

For Angel Estefan, son of slain Miami police officer Victor Estefan, 26 years of frustration boiled over in dramatic fashion in a court room on Thursday.

“Bro, you had no right taking my father’s life. That was my life,” Angel Estefan, 52, growled as he stood, just feet away from his father’s killer. “You got away with murder!”

Douglas Escobar, who pleaded guilty to the patrol officer’s March 1988 slaying in a deal that spared him the death penalty, stammered in surprise from inside the defendant’s box. “Why you insult me?”

“Why did you kill my father?” Angel Estefan shot back.

Estefan’s son, Angel Estefan Jr., 29, the grandson of the slain officer, then joined his father’s side.

“I know you’re going to rot in hell … Enjoy your stay,” Estefan Jr. told Escobar. “May God have mercy on your soul, you piece of s**t.”

Delia Estefan, the long-grieving widow of Victor Estefan, also joined them at the podium in the sixth-floor Miami-Dade criminal courtroom. But she could not manage to speak. She only cried.

The family’s outbursts, though brief, had brewed for decades, particularly over the past year.

Douglas Escobar accepted the plea deal — a reduced charge of second-degree murder — one year after a similar arrangement fell through and after his co-defendant and brother, Dennis Escobar, came four votes shy of being acquitted in a trial that ended with a deadlocked jury.

Prosecutors say Dennis Escobar, wielding a .357-caliber revolver, shot Estefan to death during a traffic stop in Little Havana. Douglas Escobar was driving his brother in a stolen car and ordered Dennis to shoot the officer, according to prosecutors.

The pair was later captured in Southern California, where they had tried to kill highway patrol officers. The brothers were convicted there and sentenced to life in prison.

For the Estefan murder, jurors convicted the Escobars in 1991 and the brothers were sent to Death Row. But the Florida Supreme Court later overturned the convictions.

Dennis Escobar finally went to trial in Miami in March 2013. But the case was dealt a severe blow when the case’s lead detective discovered an audio tape in an evidence box that showed that Dennis Escobar, during a police interview, had invoked his constitutional right to remain silent.

With the case suddenly weakened, prosecutors offered Escobar a plea deal, which would have spared each brother the death penalty and shipped them to California, to serve their life sentences, after they served another 18 years in Florida.

But Douglas Escobar, 54, who had a history of mental illness, could not grasp the plea deal at first. Days later, he agreed, only to see his brother back out — and the deal was off for both of them.

Ultimately, a judge allowed jurors to hear details of Dennis Escobar’s confession after the detective and a California trooper testified that the suspect, after asking for a lawyer, changed his mind and agreed to confess.

But the detective’s credibility was damaged. After two days of deliberations, eight jurors — who said the detective’s conduct was “shady” — wanted to acquit, but four refused. A mistrial was declared.

Dennis Escobar, 53, is still awaiting a re-trial, and has yet to accept any plea deals.

In the end, Thursday’s plea deal calls for Douglas Escobar to accept 36 more years in a Florida prison. But under 1988 sentencing rules, he will likely serve only about 12 of those years.

But Douglas Escobar won’t be getting out of prison — after his Florida term is up, he will be immediately shipped to California to finish his consecutive life sentences there.

Both brothers will eventually be eligible for parole in California, although officials there would likely choose to keep them behind bars.

The emotional court hearing was attended by a slew of Miami police officers, including Assistant Police Chief Rudy Llanes, homicide Cmdr. Eunice Cooper and cold case detective, Andy Arostegui.

Armando Aguilar Jr., a Miami cop and an executive assistant to the police chief, said it was important for officers to show support in a case that many people may have forgotten about over the years.

“Victor’s family and the uniform are all that’s left of him,” he said.

Read more Miami-Dade stories from the Miami Herald

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