March 11, 2013

Hate crime trial starts for Hialeah man accused in racial attack

Prosecutors say Luis Gonzalez hurled racial slurs before driving his truck at two African American men walking through a Hialeah parking lot.

After he was wounded in Miami’s McDuffie race riots more than three decades ago, Luis Gonzalez harbored a deep-seated resentment toward blacks, jurors heard Monday.

So when two young black men walked past him outside a Hialeah pizza joint in January 2012 – looking arrogant, he later claimed – Gonzalez hurled racial slurs, hopped in his truck and tried to ram them, prosecutor said.

The result: One of them men shot Gonzalez in the neck. His truck plowed into a funeral home. The men fled.

But when the story was finally untangled, Gonzalez confessed that he yelled the obscenities, then tried to strike them with his vehicle, Miami-Dade prosecutor Manolo Reboso told jurors at the opening of Gonzalez’ trial Monday.

“The reason, the evidence will, show is that they smirked at him,” Reboso said. “They were arrogant black men and in the 80s, during the McDuffie riots, he was shot in the back by an arrogant black man and ever since then it just hasn’t sat right.”

Gonzalez initially told Hialeah Police the pair robbed him. And, defense attorney Maria Della Guardia said her client was indeed the victim of a would-be robbery. The two men weren’t supposed to have weapons – and didn’t even bother calling police, she said.

“Real victims call the cops,” she said, adding: “Yes, he did say ‘f****** n*****, but you don’t get shot in the head for calling someone a n*****.”

Gonzalez, 51, has a lengthy criminal record, with than a dozen convictions for charges ranging from drunk driving, cocaine possession to stalking.

Hialeah Police charged him with two counts of attempted murder with prejudice, a “hate crime” enhancement that means he could face up to life in prison.

Gonzalez’ trial began Monday in Circuit Judge Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat’s courtroom before a six-person jury that includes two Hispanic women, one white woman and two black men.

He told Hialeah detectives that he was wounded in the Miami riots of 1980, sparked by the acquittal of Dade police officers accused of killing motorist Arthur McDuffie.

Four white and Hispanic officers, prosecutors said, savagely beat McDuffie to death after he led them on a high-speed chase while riding a motorcycle.

After the acquittal, racially charged riots erupted, killing more than a dozen people and causing catastrophic damage to Miami’s inner-city.

In this case, prosecutors alleged, Gonzalez had his payback against Andy Alexander and Jarvis James, both in their early 20s. Just before 5 p.m. on Jan. 2, 2012, they were headed to their class at a school for security guards.

When their Chevrolet Trailblazer got a flat tire, the two had the SUV towed to Festival Tires, 4696 Palm Ave.

The men, who had no criminal history, walked over to a nearby Walgreens to get change. According to prosecutors, as they passed Jerry and Joe’s Pizza, Gonzalez spotted them, yelled the slurs and asked why they were in Hialeah, a heavily Hispanic city in Northwest Miami-Dade.

Gonzalez later told police the men “looked arrogant” so he hopped in his truck and tried to run them down.

James whipped out a .25 caliber pistol, jumped out of the way and fired three times – striking Gonzalez once in the neck. The truck barely missed Alexander by a few inches, police said.

Gonzalez lost control of his pickup, and plowed into the Memorial Plan Funeral Home, 4850 Palm Ave.

Afraid no one would believe them, James and Alexander ran to get their SUV from the repair shop and left Hialeah, prosecutors said.

Investigators later tracked them down, and questioned each separately. Each told the same story. Authorities later ruled their use of a firearm as justified in defending themselves.

Gonzalez then backtracked on his story.

“He lied not once, not twice, but three times about being robbed,” said Reboso, who is trying the case with prosecutor Breezye Telfair.

In a final recorded statement, Gonzalez admitted his resentment toward blacks but said he drove at the men only hoping to scare them.

Defense attorneys Della Guardia and David Sisselman sought to shift the focus to the James and Alexander.

Della Guardia said the two were loitering at the Walgreens, asking for money.

And the men each carried pistols, despite the fact that supervisors at their security guard school said they were not allowed to wield weapons yet.

“They carried them anyway because they’re gangster,” Della Guardia said.

She also suggested that Gonzalez gave shifting accounts because “he was questioned with a bullet in his head at the hospital.”

“There is only one victim in this case: Luis Gonzalez and he is not guilty,” she said.

The trial continues Tuesday.

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