A jury took slightly more than a half hour to find a Plantation Key man not guilty of improper display of a weapon and simple assault, making violent threats, in a nearly three-year-old case where he scared off bait fishermen from a water basin off his back yard with a hobby rifle — shaped like an AR-15 — that shoots plastic pellets.
The case ended up having a tangential connection to a four-year-old manslaughter case in the Bahamas, when it was discovered that one of the men on the boat fishing that day was charged with stabbing a man to death in Bimini a year earlier.
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Six jurors came back with a not-guilty verdict after 34 minutes at the Plantation Key courthouse Thursday afternoon, the opening day of the trial of Daniel Triboletti, 56, an airline pilot who just returned from a flight the morning of Sept. 25, 2015, when the incident occurred.
Triboletti said he was going to bed after returning home from his shift and seeing his son off to school. He heard men's voices coming from the basin behind his Fontaine Drive home off the ocean side of mile marker 90 and saw five men in a 33-foot Contender boat casting a net for bait. According to reports from the State Attorney's Office and the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, Triboletti either asked the men to leave or he demanded they do so — depending on who spoke to investigators that day.
Triboletti later told deputies the vessel was in the same area thieves had been targeting lower units from boat engines.
According to Triboletti, the men were cursing at him and giving him the middle finger. As they did, he filmed them with his iPad. Deputy Caridad Bellon viewed the video and saw the men — Paul Varney, Michael Varney, David Cox, James Gunther and Tyler Valles — yelling and gesturing toward Triboletti.
The boat came closer to shore, and Triboletti said he felt frightened for his life, so he grabbed his son's Airsoft pellet rifle, which is painted and shaped like a military-type rifle, albeit with an orange tip on the muzzle, and pointed it at the approaching vessel.
Varney and his crew told police they thought the weapon was real and hit the deck as they heard low-sounding pops.
The day before the trial, Triboletti's attorneys Rayme Suarez and Paul Calli argued argued unsuccessfully in front of Monroe County Judge Sharon Hamilton that the case should be dismissed because the State Attorney's Office did not say that one of the men on the boat, Tyler Valles, is facing a manslaughter charge in the 2014 stabbing death of a Pennsylvania business man in the Bahamas.
Assistant State Attorney Taylor Loe said he did not know about Valles' case in the Bahamas until after the defense found out, and even if he did, he was not obligated to disclose it as discovery because it had nothing to do with Triboletti's case.
"The fact that someone comes into the courtroom and calls something Brady does not make it Brady," Loe said, referring to so-called Brady violations, where prosecutors deliberately withhold evidence that might be beneficial to a defendant's case.
Calli disagreed, stating Valles' case shows he has "violent tendencies," and Triboletti had reason to believe his life was in danger when the boat came closer to his property.
"This is an assault case, when the five men in a boat said go in your home or we're going to kick you ass, and then they turn the boat around after an hour of confrontation with Mr. Triboletti," Calli said.
Stabbing in the Bahamas
Valles, 24, who was listed as a victim in the case and scheduled to testify, did not show up for court Thursday.
He is a fishing mate by trade who works high-end tournaments and was a crewman on a 60-foot yacht that was docked at the Bimini Big Game Club Resort on March 14, 2014. Businessman Carl Yerger, 45, was found dead feet from the vessel on a dock with stab wounds.
Stephen Dean, who at the time was superintendent of the Royal Bahamian Police Department, told FlKeysNews.com in 2014 that Yerger was intoxicated and tried repeatedly to board the vessel. Valles and his colleague, Robert Schwarz, along with two other crewmen, physically tried to prevent Yerger from entering the boat.
Valles' attorney in the Bahamas, Wayne Munroe, said at the time Valles went to get a marina security guard and grabbed a fillet knife that was on the dock. As he turned, Yerger attacked him, according to Munroe, and was stabbed in the process.
Valles and Schwarz were arrested and freed on a bond each of $35,000 March 15, 2014.
Munroe has not returned repeated email requests for comment about the status of the case over the last two months. Valles could not be reached for comment. Charges against Schwarz, who also faced manslaughter, were dropped in April 2017, according to the Nassau Guardian newspaper.