Saturday, February 24, 2018
Public safety

Man found guilty of murder in 2006 slaying near Oldsmar preserve

Seven years ago, two fishermen discovered the bloodied body of 23-year-old Marcos Antonio Diaz near the Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve in Oldsmar.

On Friday, a 12-person jury deliberated for more than seven hours and found Hector Vasquez-Padilla guilty of first-degree murder in Diaz's slaying.

Padilla, 25, will receive an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole.

"I am a mother to a murdered son, a life cut short," said Nancy Calvo, Diaz's mother. "And today moving forward, I live knowing God has surely given me justice."

On May 30, 2006, Diaz's body was discovered about 8:30 a.m. inside a beige Kia parked on a dirt road. He had been shot in the head three times.

Detectives collected tire impressions and shoe prints from the dirt road. With no leads and little information, the case went cold, Assistant State Attorney Walt Manning said during opening statements Tuesday.

But in 2008, Abel Garcia, an eyewitness to the murder, came forward, Manning said.

And last year, a grand jury indicted Padilla on a charge of first-degree murder. He was in federal prison on unrelated weapons charges.

The motive, prosecutors said: Padilla thought Diaz had arranged to have him robbed of about $2,000 at gunpoint before a drug deal in St. Petersburg.

Throughout the four-day trial, Padilla's attorneys argued that the state's three main witnesses were convicted felons who at one time or another testified to help their own criminal cases.

Garcia, whom prosecutors said was in the Kia the night Diaz was killed, is in state prison on charges that include armed burglary and grand theft.

Jose Jimenez, who testified that he helped Padilla get rid of his gun, is in federal prison for illegal transport of firearms.

And Keishan Enix, who was with Padilla when he was robbed, is at the Pinellas County jail awaiting sentencing on federal charges of armed conspiracy to commit robbery and illegal possession of a firearm.

Padilla's DNA or fingerprints, the defense added, were not found at the scene.

"Without factual evidence and without credible witnesses, what's left?" defense attorney Ari Weisberg said. "What's left is a reasonable doubt."

But Assistant State Attorney Holly Grissinger told the jury that all three witnesses were close friends of Padilla's, that Jimenez and Enix's stories never changed after their first interviews with police, and that their stories matched the evidence.

"These are your witnesses. This is what you have. Use your common sense," Grissinger told the jury. "Look at the picture in its entirety. The pieces all fit."

Prosecutors played a recording of Garcia's interview with detectives, where he chronicled the night Diaz was killed: After Padilla, who lived in Hillsborough County at the time, was robbed in St. Petersburg, Padilla told Garcia and several others that he thought Diaz set him up. That night, Padilla told Diaz and the others they were going to find the robbers in St. Petersburg. He told Diaz to drive to Oldsmar, where they would steal a car.

Padilla was in the back seat. Garcia was in the passenger's seat. At the intersection of Patty Drive and National Orange Avenue in Oldsmar, Padilla fired about five times at Diaz, Garcia said.

Throughout the trial, Diaz's family — his mother, father, cousins, sister and friends — crowded the wooden benches of the courtroom. Among them was Victoria Diaz, his 18-year-old sister. On Friday, she wore a T-shirt emblazoned with her brother's photograph and a red bandanna. It was her brother's favorite color.

Diaz's family called him Mikey. He loved rapping and basketball, they said. He once gave his Wendy's meal to a homeless person. He was going to barber school.

The day she found out her brother was dead, Victoria, then 12, locked herself in the bathroom and cried.

"I kind of just went blank," she said. "I remember feeling nothing at all."

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