Closing arguments in violent DUI crash case
Jurors didn’t believe that a farmer hundreds of miles away in Cuba was actually the drunk driver who killed a woman in Hialeah five years ago.
A Miami-Dade jury on Monday convicted Orlier Suarez Albo of DUI manslaughter after he presented a witness — testifying via video from Cuba — who insisted that he was actually the man behind the wheel in the violent crash that killed Lisett Betancourt. The farmer, Alex Diaz, claimed he was visiting Miami that day in 2012, walked away from the crash unnoticed by police and traveled back to Cuba never to return.
Jurors thought otherwise, especially because Miami-Dade prosecutors had overwhelming evidence against Suarez.
Betancourt’s husband, Roberto Domingo Bordón, testified that Suarez was the driver of the BMW who crashed into him and his wife as they drove down West Fourth Avenue in Hialeah early on the morning of April 8, 2012.
Suarez was nabbed along with his passenger, Luis Gonzalez, as the two men tried to walk away from the crash scene. No police officers or witnesses recalled seeing a third man on the scene.
Suarez’s phone was found on the driver’s side of the BMW 750i, along with a precise match of his DNA on the airbag that deployed. “That means this DNA was placed there after the crash,” Miami prosecutor Nardia Haye told jurors during closing arguments.
Suarez, 33, faces up to 50 years in prison when he is sentenced in the coming week. Suarez, who spent a couple of years on the lam in Cuba and Mexico, will remain behind bars until his sentencing.
The testimony of a defense witness from Cuba emerged as the major storyline in the trial of Suarez.
Prosecutors protested the decision by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez to allow the testimony of Diaz, who did not come forward with his claim for six years, until reached by a defense investigator who traveled to Cuba. Diaz testified via glitchy prerecorded video taken through the popular messaging service WhatsApp.
Prosecutors Haye and Robin Peguero argued that because Cuba has no extradition agreement with the United States, Diaz would never be extradited for lying under oath. Cuba rarely accepts back citizens who have been deported from the United States, and has become a haven for fugitives who know they won’t be returned to face justice across the Florida Straits.
“Alex Diaz is not a credible witness. He’s taking the fall for his friend of over 20 years because he will face no consequences for lying,” Haye told jurors. “He is untouchable.”
Defense lawyer Carlos Gonzalez argued that the DNA on the airbag was the result of crime-scene contamination, and that Bordón could not have possibly seen Suarez in the dark of the chaotic scene. As for Diaz in Cuba, he argued that the man was honest.
“There is no evidence that Alex Diaz is not telling the truth,” Carlos Gonzalez said.
The conviction was a bittersweet victory for Bordón, who came with his longtime wife, Betancourt, from Cuba in 2008 after receiving political asylum. The island’s Communist government had labeled him a dissident and threw him in jail repeatedly over the years.
In Miami, he worked picking up scrap metal and debris for resale; she worked in a factory. “She wasn’t just my wife,” he said. “She was my life.”
Bordón remained in a coma for several months after the crash caused by Suarez. Today, Bordón suffers from chronic aches, can barely walk and can no longer work.
When told of Monday’s verdict by phone, he erupted into a bellow of joy. “This is the first good news I’ve had in years,” he cried.