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Holiday man spends 6 days in jail for crime he didn't commit

Christian Lebron-Vega, left, sits beside his mother, Yarmila Vega, in their Holiday home.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Christian Lebron-Vega, left, sits beside his mother, Yarmila Vega, in their Holiday home.

HOLIDAY — Christian Lebron-Vega lives with his mother and doesn't drive. He walks to his job at a dollar store from their apartment and likes to play video games with his friends, but otherwise he keeps to himself.

He says he has never been to Hudson, half an hour north on U.S. 19.

But on the night of July 24, Lebron-Vega, 20, was at work when deputies arrested him for an attempted murder at a Hudson nightclub.

On June 16, there was a shooting outside of Venom Saloon. A man named Thomas Fazzi got into an altercation in the parking lot and was shot three times. A fourth bullet grazed his hand. In the hospital, he told detectives he thought it was a man named Christian Lebron.

Fazzi, 18, described him as 5 feet 3 and about 100 pounds with a light brown complexion and multiple tattoos, some on his hands.

Detectives followed the trail to Lebron-Vega's Facebook page. Fazzi and his mother both identified Lebron-Vega as the shooter from an ID picture in a photo lineup.

That was enough evidence to make the arrest.

But Lebron-Vega — who is eight inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than the description — wasn't the right guy.

He would spend the next six days in jail while it got sorted out.

"I was just in shock," Lebron-Vega, who has no criminal record, said in an interview at his home. "I said, 'Why me?' I didn't do anything. I was never in that club."

Deputies took him to jail and strip-searched him. No one questioned him that night. He said he wasn't even allowed to make a phone call.

The helplessness, he said, was overwhelming.

Lebron-Vega's mother, Yarmila Vega, found out her son had been arrested when a deputy called her. She couldn't sleep that first night, she said. Lebron-Vega said the only thing that got him through his incarceration was hearing his mother's voice on the phone every night. Without that, he said, he wouldn't have made it.

Pasco County sheriff's Capt. Mel Eakley confirmed that there are two men named Christian Lebron; however, it is not known if the other man's name is hyphenated or not.

Fazzi's mother, Amy, told the Times that she realized deputies had arrested the wrong person when she saw his mug shot on the Sheriff's Office website. She and Fazzi went to detectives and recanted their story. That was July 26, a Friday.

The State Attorney's Office wanted to be sure the witnesses hadn't been coerced into taking back their statement, Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis said. So he waited until he could get them in a room and put them under oath. That didn't happen until Tuesday, July 30.

"We bring in the victims. They are quite candid that it's the wrong guy. They describe him differently. We find out he has no tattoos on his hands," Halkitis said. "Immediately, without a minute going by, we say, 'Let's (release) this guy.' "

During that harrowing week, Lebron-Vega's mother fought hard to find out what was going on. She said she's considering legal action.

"I just want my son's name to be clean," she said. "For them to come and mess up his record like that — it's not right."

Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Melanie Snow said the agency followed correct protocol.

"The arrest was made after probable cause was established because the victim and the witness positively identified the suspect," she said.

Contact Jon Silman at (727) 869-6229, Jsilman@tampabay.com or @Jonsilman1 on Twitter.

Holiday man spends 6 days in jail for crime he didn't commit 08/06/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 6, 2013 11:20pm]
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