Thursday, December 7, 2006

Gang member seeks to avert execution for '79 topless-bar killing

Gang member seeks to avert execution for '79 topless-bar killing


TALLAHASSEE - A week before his scheduled execution, a suspected member of the ''Machete Men'' Puerto Rican terror gang brought one of his final appeals to Florida's Supreme Court today, alleging he was wrongly sentenced for murdering the manbager of a Miami topless lounge.

Angel Diaz, now 58, has submitted an affidavit of a ''jail house snitch'' who is recanting some of his testimony used to convict Diaz in the 1979 murder-robbery at the Velvet Swing lounge.

Prosecutors argue the substance of the affidavit is nothing truly new and that Diaz should still be executed Dec. 13. Through their questions, some of the Supreme Court justices seemed to side with the state, and noted that Diaz was part of the robbery.

Neither Diaz nor two other suspects was clearly identified as the shooter. A topless dancer who ducked behind the bar and customers forcibly locked in the bathroom didn't get a clear look at the triggerman. Diaz left a fingerprint on a matchbook left at the scene.

The case grew cold for four years, and police focused attention elsewhere as the cocaine wars raged in Miami, making it such a violent city at one point that a quarter of all murders were with machine guns. A break in the case came when a killer named Ralph Gajus was in Miami jail in 1984 along with Diaz.

He said Diaz discussed by hand gestures and in broken English the killing of Joseph Nagy at the Velvet Swing. Gajus now says he improperly inferred that Diaz was the shooter after Diaz excluded him from a jail escape plan.

Diaz had been serving a life term in his native Puerto Rico after killing a prison drug rehabilitation director, but had escaped. He also escaped from a Connecticut prison before coming to Miami.

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