March 14, 2013

Jurors convict Hialeah man in hate crime trial

Luis Gonzalez is guilty of aggravated assault with a firearm with prejudice for attack on two young black men.

Luis Gonzalez, once shot and wounded during the 1980 race riots that rocked Miami, is guilty of targeting two black men because of their race, jurors decided Thursday.

Prosecutors say Gonzalez, still seething over being shot in the back by a black man during the 1980 McDuffie riots, grew upset when he saw two young black men walking through a parking lot in the heavily Hispanic city of Hialeah.

Angered because “they looked arrogant,” Gonzalez tried to reverse his pickup truck into Andy Alexander and Travas James. Fearing for their lives, James pulled a .22-caliber pistol from his pocket and shot Gonzalez in the neck.

Prosecutors ruled the use of the gun as justified.

On Thursday, the racially mixed jury convicted Gonzalez, 51, of two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon with prejudice.

“It’s a great day for the people of Miami-Dade and justice for Andy and Travas,” said prosecutor Breezye Telfair said. “As county, we must be mindful that for some, the wounds of 1980 have not healed and today’s verdict maybe can help us all begin to heal.”

Gonzalez originally was charged with attempted murder, but jurors returned a verdict on lesser charges. He still faces stiff penalties: 30 years for each count because of the added “hate crime” enhancement.

But with more than a dozen convictions already on his record, Gonzalez could face even more prison time if Circuit Judge Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat sentences him as a “habitual violent offender.”

His sentencing is May 14.

He will appeal the jury’s verdict, said Miami-Dade Assistant Public Defender David Sisselman.

“The two alleged victims got away with shooting my client,” he said. “They put a bullet in Luis’ head and are paying nothing for it.”

Gonzalez initially told police that the two men robbed him. He later changed his story, saying he just wanted to scare the men, prosecutor Manolo Reboso told jurors during trial.

But his defense attorneys insisted that Gonzalez was indeed the victim of an attempted robbery by “two young hip hop punks.”

Sisselman and Maria Della Guardia said the two men broke the law by illegally carrying concealed firearms.

Alexander and James said they were on their way to a security guard class when their SUV broke down in Hialeah. As they waited for their car to be repaired, the men walked to a nearby Walgreens for change.

On their way back, outside a pizza joint, Gonzalez began yelling racial slurs, demanding to know whey they were in Hialeah, before gunning his truck at them. The truck barely missed Alexander as James shot Gonzalez.

The truck plowed into a Palm Avenue funeral home

James and Alexander told jurors they never reported the attack to police because they felt no one would believe them.

“Two people minding their own business got caught in the path of hatred,” Telfair told jurors.

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