The tale that Clifford Friend – after watching a crime telenovela inside a Miami-Dade jail – admitted to hurling his ex-wife’s body into the sea turned out to be just another work of fiction.
A judge on Thursday agreed to strike the trial testimony of an inmate who claimed Friend had tacitly confessed to him while the two watched a Spanish-language soap opera with a similar murder plot line.
The reason: recordings suddenly surfaced that showed Friend could not have been watching TV because he was actually talking with his wife on a jail phone at the exact time the episode aired.
The stunning development led prosecutors – who themselves had called the witness to the stand – to ask Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Teresa Mary Pooler to disregard the testimony of convicted cocaine trafficker Andres Garcia Florez.
She agreed but the relatively rare legal move did not come without a broad explanation – Pooler told jurors that prosecutors had received information he had “fabricated his testimony.”
The jury never heard details about the jail phone recordings. Whether Garcia’s doomed appearance on the stand hurts the state’s case remains to be seen. Closings arguments take place Friday, to be followed by deliberations.
Garcia, who admitted on the stand Tuesday that he had been hoping to get a reduced sentence for his testimony, will now be investigated for perjury. He is already serving 30 years prison.
The row over Garcia’s testimony adds yet another twist in a case that has spanned two decades.
Friend, 58, is accused of strangling his ex-wife, Lynne Friend, in August 1994, the dumping her body from his boat seven miles east of the Miami Beach coast.
Federal customs agents caught Friend and his pal, Alan Gold, in the boat dumping something overboard. But despite a massive underwater search, her corpse was ever found and Friend was not charged until March 2012.
In key testimony last week, Gold told jurors that Friend, upset that is ex-wife was moving their 5-year-old son out of state, strangled her and then called him to help dispose of the body.
Garcia Florez took the stand Tuesday, saying he and Friend in April had been watching the telenovela El Capo, which airs on the MundoFox network.
In the episode, a drug kingpin hurls his spy girlfriend over the side of yacht, an anchor tied to her body.
“He told me, ‘Wow it reminds me of what I did. It’s like déjà vu,’” Garcia Florez said, recalling Friend saying: “It’s funny, I just saw myself on TV ... that’s how it’s done.”
But on cross examination, the defense sought to introduce Friend’s recorded jail calls showing he was on the phone the entire time the show was on TV. The evidence blindsided prosecutors, who had not seen it, and the judge gave them more than day to investigate.
“State, seriously, you put on a jailhouse snitch and didn’t further check his credibility,” Pooler told prosecutors.
Pooler nevertheless ruled that the defense should have turned the tapes over to the state before the trial. Prosecutors on Thursday concluded that the calls were authentic – and Garcia had fibbed.
He never returned to the stand. Prosecutors rested their case on Thursday.