Florida Presses For Execution Convicted Murderer Known In Conn. For Hartford Jail Break 25 Years Ago
November 29, 2006
Staff and Wire Reports
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Twenty-five years ago, Angel Diaz was a convicted murderer who helped overwhelm a pair of prison guards at a Hartford correctional facility and then used a string of bed sheets to get over the prison wall and escape into the night.
On Tuesday, state prosecutors in Florida argued that Diaz, now 54, should be executed as scheduled on Dec. 13 for fatally shooting the manager of a topless nightclub outside Miami in a robbery three years before the Hartford escape.
Diaz's lawyer filed an appeal Monday, claiming the execution should be delayed based on new evidence in the case.
By the time he arrived in Connecticut in the early 1980s, Diaz was already wanted not only in connection with the Miami murder, but another one in July 1978 in his native Puerto Rico for which he was convicted and sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison.
But Diaz somehow managed to escape prison custody and fled the island within a matter of months, arriving in Florida in time to carry out the Miami murder, according to court records.In July 1981, federal agents captured Diaz in Middletown and booked him on federal weapons charges stemming from incidents in Florida and Pennsylvania, records show.
As he was waiting to be moved to a federal penitentiary in Harrisburg, Pa., Diaz and three other inmates at the Hartford Correctional Center staged a violent escape that kept them in the local headlines for the next several weeks.According to police reports and court records, Diaz held one prison guard at knifepoint while the three other inmates overwhelmed a second guard, locking them both in a prison cell. The inmates then used a floor buffer to bash open a window high on one of the prison walls and climbed out of the building.The four then apparently used a string of bed sheets to get over the perimeter wall of the facility. State police at the time said the four apparently stole a pair of cars that had been parked nearby.
Despite an intense manhunt, Diaz remained at large for four days before police found him in a hotel room in Meriden.
He was returned to custody and eventually extradited to Florida to stand trial for the murder of Joseph Nagy, the manager of the Velvet Swing club who was killed by Diaz and an accomplice in 1978.
Diaz was convicted of first-degree murder in 1984 after defending himself at trial with the help of a standby lawyer.
Since then, Diaz has been trying to appeal his death sentence by arguing, among other points, that a key witness against him eventually recanted his testimony.
But in papers filed Tuesday with the Florida Supreme Court, prosecutors said Diaz's argument is not grounds for staying the execution.
The only thing new this time is a sworn statement by Ralph Gajus, an inmate who says he falsely claimed Diaz had implied being the triggerman, said Assistant Attorney General Sandra Jaggard.Gajus, a jailhouse snitch who shared a cell with Diaz at the Miami-Dade County Jail, testified that Diaz had indicated with hand gestures that he shot the victim in the chest.
In the sworn statement, Gajus said he lied on the witness stand in 1984 because he was angry with Diaz for failing to include him in a plan to escape, and that police had promised to help him with his case. Gajus later was sentenced to 20 years in prison for second-degree murder.
Jaggard also noted that the Supreme Court in an earlier appeal ruled death was an appropriate punishment even if Diaz did not fire the fatal shot.
Under Florida's felony murder law, a person who commits a crime that results in a death is just as culpable as the one who caused the death.Diaz's lawyer, Suzanne Myers Keffer, also contends he should not be executed because he is mentally ill, and because Florida's lethal injection procedure constitutes unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment. Three other death row inmates who were executed this year also made the latter argument.