Criminal court

Telenovela plot echoes real-life Miami murder trial

 

dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

Enraged when he discovered his bombshell Latin girlfriend is a spy, a Russian drug kingpin lured her onto his yacht for a night on the water. Then, as she kicked and screamed, he tied an anchor to her body and hurled her into the sea.

It was a scene from El Capo, a Spanish-language telenovela chronicling the fictional world of warring drug empires.

But — according to a fellow inmate’s testimony on Tuesday — the plot struck close to home for Clifford Friend, the Lighthouse Point man accused of strangling his ex-wife, tying an anchor to her corpse and hurling her into the Atlantic Ocean off Miami.

“He told me, ‘Wow it reminds me of what I did. It’s like déjà vu,’” said inmate Andres Garcia Florez, who told jurors that he and Friend watch the episode together while in jail in April.

He recalled Friend saying: “It’s funny, I just saw myself on TV ... that’s how it’s done.”

Garcia’s testimony added another strange twist to a tale of betrayal that already seemed torn from a television murder mystery. But his story was called into doubt late Tuesday afternoon when the defense tried to introduce records purporting to show Friend was actually on a jail phone call during the entire time of the telenovela that April night – blindsiding prosecutors who had never heard the claim.

“We brought forth evidence he committed perjury to try and shorten his sentence,” said defense lawyer Peter Heller. “The whole story is made up.”

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Teresa Pooler cut court short Tuesday so prosecutors could investigate the claim.

Friend, 58, is on trial for the killing of Lynne Friend, who vanished 20 years ago from South Florida after she had just won a custody battle against her ex-husband. Her body has never been found.

For more than a week, jurors have heard that Friend became outraged when a court awarded custody of their 5 -year-old son to his ex-wife as she planned to move to Tennessee to re-marry. Friend, during an outburst in court, vowed no one would take his son from him, witnesses said.

Just days before she was to leave for Tennessee, Lynne Friend told her fiance in Tennessee that she was headed to Clifford Friend’s North Miami Beach house to pick up a child-support check.

Hours later, U.S. customs agents on a patrol boat stopped Friend and his buddy, Alan Gold, on a 30-foot Chapparal seven miles east of Government Cut. The men appeared to be dumping something overboard.

Gold, who did not cooperate with prosecutors until 2013, testified last week that Friend admitted to strangling his wife, then enlisted him to help dump her at sea from the boat they co-owned.

After his arrest in 2012, Friend was allowed out on house arrest but was later re-jailed after Gold became a witness in the case.

It was while in jail that Friend met Garcia, 33, a Colombian-born Hialeah resident who in November 2013 was supposed to begin a five-year prison after cooperating with police and pleading guilty to cocaine trafficking.

But Garcia fled Miami before his surrender, and his sentence was upped to 30 years in prison. Police later recaptured him in New York and was returned to West Miami-Dade’s Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Facility.

During cross examination, Garcia admitted he was hoping to continue to working with authorities in hopes of shaving time off his sentence.

“If I can find a way that I can be helped, of course, that would be perfect,” Garcia admitted on the stand.

While behind bars, he said became pals with Friend, cutting his hair and teaching him Spanish.

On the night of April 2, Garcia said he and Friend were watching El Capo, which airs on the Spanish-language network Mundo Fox. The show, which revolves around a fictional Colombian cartel kingpin, is now in its third season.

“It was common for us to watch it,” Garcia told jurors. “Everybody watched it in Colombia.”

When the boat-dumping scene came on, he said Friend’s comment piqued his interest. That night, Garcia wrote the comments down on a piece of paper.

He later turned the note over to prosecutors. In the telenovela episode, the woman dumped at sea turns out to be a spy working with the “Capo” drug lord star of the show, who spends the episode masquerading as a Jewish rabbi.

The woman miraculously survives and later returns to torture and exact revenge on the man who dumped her in the sea.

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