It has been 39 years since Felix Garcia was put in prison for a 1981 Tampa murder he possibly never has participated in at all. Official court records show that Garcia entered a guilty plea for his 1983 trial but he was a 21-year-old deaf man with language deprivation so severe, he was limited to a reading level no higher than the fourth grade and he did not understand what was going on. Interpreters were not provided at the trial. Playing tic-tac-toe with his public defender next to him, Garcia sat there smiling and nodding as they convicted him of murder. Only later in prison did Garcia learn ASL, improve his English, and pick up Spanish.
It was believed that Garcia walked into a Tampa hotel room and shot Joseph Tremontana, Jr. to death. Garcia had a 7-hour alibi, but his brothers and sisters put the final nail in his coffin with their claim: “Yes, Felix did it.” In a 2017 interview with Craig Patrick’s Money, Power & Politics, Garcia asserted, “I never even met the man, never!” By the time two of Garcia’s siblings signed an affidavit declaring Felix’s innocence, retracting their original statements, Garcia had been in prison for almost 20 years.
One can argue that Felix’s siblings framed him to get the killers off the hook. Francisco “Frank” Garcia, one of Felix’s brothers, himself confessed that he and Ray Stanley did the deed. The police found 13 fingerprints from Frank but none from Felix, and Ray was also caught wearing Tremontana’s watch. On top of this, Felix’s ex-girlfriend and her mother swore that he was at their house on Minneha Street, nearly six miles away from the hotel at the time of the murder. That night, Felix signed off on a receipt for a pizza delivery at their house and all three remembered the same movie they watched in the living room.
The only physical link the prosecution had between Felix and the murder was the fact Felix pawned off Tremontana’s ring and yet, even with all the other evidence pointing to his likely innocence, the District Attorney used the ring sale as the “slam dunk” to put Felix away for life on a murder he may have not done. Felix, who has no car, maintains that Frank drove him to a pawn shop and tricked him into signing a slip for the ring.
In his affidavit, Frank admitted to framing his younger brother to save himself from the death penalty with the electric chair. Felix’s sister, Tina Daniels, stated in her affidavit (check out this video, look for the 3:55 time mark, and pause the video to read a portion) that she went along with it out of fear for her life, as she genuinely believed Ray Stanley would kill her: “Raymond Stanley made me lie to the Detectives and State Attorney to keep him out of everything that happened. He made me say that my little brother, Felix Garcia, did the burglary with Frank Garcia and that Felix Garcia shot Joseph Tramontana [sic]. None of this is true.” Stanley has since died and Tina now says she does not remember signing any affidavit and contends Felix is guilty.
Pat Bliss, Felix’s pro bono legal advocate who has worked his case for more than 24 years, disclosed that she also received affidavits in 2002 from five different inmates sharing what Frank Garcia told them “about putting his innocent brother in prison.”
This leads us to one final question: Why is Garcia still in prison? In 2014, prosecutor Mark Ober argued that Frank Garcia, also incarcerated for the 1981 murder, signed the affidavit on behalf of Felix as part of “a plot to get his brother out so he could sue the state and then help seek Frank’s release.” A third Garcia brother, Mike Garcia, came forward with the claim that both Felix and Frank are guilty.
For years, Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of Deaf [HEARD] has been fighting for Felix Garcia’s release. Felix was considered for parole in 2014 and 2017, and both times, his request was denied. Felix is now up for parole again this year and HEARD informed Deaf Vee Journal that his hearing date is still pending. The Florida Commission on Offender Review has stated that their role is to determine whether Felix has earned the right to re-enter society, not whether he is innocent. Felix’s scheduled date of release is August 10, 2025, but his legal team continues to seek an earlier date. In the meantime, the Florida Department of Corrections’ database shows that Frank is scheduled for release on November 28, 2022.
For more information about Deaf people in prisons and the #Deafinprison campaign, check out HEARD’s #DeafInPrison Campaign Fact Sheet (available at this link).