Stepfather no help; stepson convicted
By JAMAL THALJI
Published January 11, 2007
NEW PORT RICHEY - Peter Gonzalez, did you pull black pantyhose over your face, burst into the Capital City Bank on Feb. 5, 2002, with a semi-automatic and make off with $9,560 in cash?
Jurors watched intently as Gonzalez sat silently on the witness stand Wednesday. His jaws clenched. His eyes searched the ceiling. Seconds passed.
Finally, he spoke:
"With all due respect, I'd like to invoke my Fifth Amendment right on the grounds it may incriminate myself."
It was a seemingly incriminating admission, made more interesting by this fact:
Gonzalez was not the man on trial.
* * *
The accused was Gonzalez's stepson, Thomas Joshua "T.J." Beshears. The case against him seemed strong.
Two bank employees identified Beshears as the robber. The prosecutor put pantyhose over his face to show the robber was still recognizable.
A witness said a vehicle matching the robber's red van was behind the bank. Beshears' DNA was taken from a cigarette butt on the van floor.
All the evidence pointed to the defendant - until he and his stepfather took the stand Wednesday.
* * *
Gonzalez, 44, was first. He wore shackles and blue jail overalls. He knows a lot about banks.
"I'm a bank robber," Gonzalez said. He's serving 10 years for the last one. It was in Pinellas County, in 2002, using the same red van.
Gonzalez said Beshears overslept the morning of Feb. 5, 2002. They had known each other only two years. Both are addicts, and both were sick. Gonzalez left to get a fix. He got it, then parked the van behind the Capital City Bank to shoot up - it was 9 a.m., the same time as the robbery.
So, the defense asked Gonzalez, did he rob the Port Richey Capital City Bank that 2002 day?
And that's when Gonzalez took the Fifth.
The judge sent the jury away. Defense attorney Sara Sanchez withdrew the question.
Prosecutor Scott Tremblay accused Gonzalez of trying to suggest he robbed the bank without having to admit to it.
"You won't answer the question," Tremblay said, "which means you did it, correct?"
"Just because I didn't answer," Gonzalez said, "doesn't mean I did it."
Gonzalez denied robbing the bank in a deposition last year, Tremblay pointed out.
And why, the prosecutor asked, did Gonzalez write a letter to his stepson's lawyer, proclaiming Beshears' innocence - and detailing a defense strategy?
"It's fair to say you'll give whatever statement necessary to protect your stepson, correct?" Tremblay said.
Gonzalez didn't answer.
* * *
Then Beshears took the stand.
He doesn't drive the family van. His license was suspended. And he was sick the morning his stepdad woke him up to ask:
Want to rob a bank?
"That's not the kind of person I am," said Beshears, 31, who has a history of drug and traffic offenses.
The prosecutor asked: Why didn't he tell the authorities his stepfather was the bank robber?
"They never asked that question," Beshears said.
* * *
The prosecution witnesses were called back to court. Each studied Gonzalez's face. Was this the man who robbed the bank?
"No, it is not," bank employee Tiffany Marholz said.
The jury took an hour. Beshears was found guilty on all charges.
He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and 10 years of probation. He has two young children.
"He was silent," Tremblay said. "But you could see the tears."
Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at email@example.com or 727 869-6236.
[Last modified January 10, 2007, 23:50:58]
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