Friday, January 23, 2009
Sentinel Staff Writer
January 20, 2009
Raul Roque's left arm bears a tattoo that reads, "Born to Create Difficulties."
The inscription might also describe the state's struggles to prosecute the Cuban-born inmate, who faces the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder in the 2006 fatal stabbing of fellow prisoner Miguel Griffin at the Lake Correctional Institution in Clermont.
The often-delayed trial was supposed to begin today with jury selection but was postponed again by Lake Circuit Judge G. Richard Singeltary, who was weighing an argument to allow the defense to travel to Havana.
Roque, 51, already serving a life term for a 1996 murder in South Florida, has a right to a thorough defense, which requires an investigation of his childhood and medical and mental histories on the island, said his lawyers, William Stone and Morris Carranza, both assistant public defenders.
Roque, born in Cuba in 1957, arrived in the U.S. on May 3, 1980.
The lawyers said they obtained permission from the U.S. Treasury to travel to Cuba for the research but cannot spend public funds for the trip because of Florida laws that prohibit employees of state agencies from doing business with "any country in the Western Hemisphere which lacks diplomatic relations with the United States" or countries considered "terrorist states."
The U.S. severed diplomatic ties with Cuba on Jan. 3, 1961. The Department of State designated Cuba as a terrorist state on March 1, 1982.
The lawyers asked Singeltary to declare the statutes unconstitutional or forbid prosecutors from seeking the death penalty.
The Cuban issue poses one more hurdle for the defense and prosecutors, who have struggled to assemble a roster of trustworthy witnesses among felons, many of whom insist they will not testify because of the stigma attached to "snitches" in the prison system.
According to court documents, two prison inmates claim they were asked to lie and say that Griffin was armed, too.
Griffin, who was serving the final days of a four-year prison sentence for cocaine possession, was stabbed more than 10 times with homemade weapons. A prison investigation concluded he was killed because other inmates had accused him of stealing shaving cream, cigarettes and other sundries from a cell shared by Roque and his co-defendant Jeffrey Ferris, 50.
Ferris also is awaiting trial on the first-degree murder charge.
According to fellow inmate Ronald "Chicago" McKeehan, 50, Roque lived by a simple code that did not require him to put a lock on his belongings in prison. It was, McKeehan said in a pretrial deposition, "You steal from me, you die."
Known as "Poppy" because of his grayish hair, Roque has been in prison since 1998 when he was found guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of a man who had sexually assaulted his pregnant girlfriend.
Both Roque and Ferris were locked inside their cell with Griffin when a passing corrections officer discovered them. According to court records, Roque initially claimed that Griffin had been stabbed on the recreation yard and had come to their cell for help.
But later, according to a prison investigation, Roque told Maj. Terry Taylor, "I'm going to be a man. I'm going to tell you what happened. He broke into my locker and I stabbed him."
Stephen Hudak can be reached at email@example.com or 352-742-5930.