Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Jurors Get Tour of Prison Inmate Testifies in Valdes Case

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Jurors Get Tour of Prison Inmate Testifies in Valdes Case

Article excerpt

Byline: Rich Tucker, Times-Union staff writer

STARKE -- Jurors yesterday got a first-hand look at the tiny cell where Frank Valdes was found dead and then returned to court to hear a convicted murderer testify he had watched an officer flush bloody gloves down the toilet the day Valdes died.

Former Florida State Prison inmate Reinaldo Batista, 41, said through a translator that he witnessed Charles Brown flush the gloves and overheard him and officer Montrez Lucas say, "they were tired of that Cuban and they had to kill him."

But lawyers for the four officers charged with murdering Valdes hammered Batista's credibility by pointing out frequent discrepancies between the story he told jurors yesterday and prior sworn interviews.

Before hearing from Batista, who was the state's sole witness yesterday, the judge took jurors on a tour of Florida State Prison. They visited the room where officers donned their battle-dress uniforms before forcibly taking Valdes out of his cell, the clinic and the two cells that housed Valdes the day he died.

"This is a unique and extraordinary thing," Circuit Judge Larry Turner told jurors just before beginning the tour. "This is evidence in this case."

Brown, Timothy Thornton, Andrew Lewis and Jason Griffis are on trial for the second-degree murder of the 36-year-old Death Row inmate and could face up to life in prison if they are convicted.

The 11 jurors -- accompanied by Turner, attorneys and reporters -- filed through cramped hallways and crowded into spartan 9-feet-by-7 feet cells yesterday morning to see where prosecutors say Valdes was beaten.

Lawyers were not allowed to make arguments during the tour, and Turner's commentary was limited, with the exception of occasional references to testimony.

Jurors touched the heavy-duty combat vests that officers use when forcibly removing inmates from their cells and examined metal handcuffs and leg irons hanging in several spots along the prison's beige walls. …

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