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No new trial for bank robber

The judge doesn't believe a written confession by the robber's stepfather.

By JAMAL THALJI
Published January 31, 2007


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NEW PORT RICHEY - Thomas Joshua "T.J." Beshears says he didn't rob the Capital City Bank on Feb. 5, 2002. But he's serving 20 years in prison for it.

He told jurors his stepfather, Peter Gonzalez, robbed the Port Richey bank. Gonzalez recently wrote a letter confessing to the crime, but he won't be charged.

That's because nobody in a position of authority - investigators, prosecutors, jurors - believes either one.

Circuit Judge Thane Covert doesn't believe the family either. He read Gonzalez's confession letter Tuesday morning, then denied Beshears' request for a new trial.

The letter doesn't meet the legal burden of "newly discovered evidence" required for a new trial, the judge ruled. Earlier this month, a jury heard Beshears accuse his stepfather and still convicted the stepson, the judge said.

Then the judge accused the stepfather and the stepson - both now doing time for different bank robberies - of acting in concert.

"It's clear to this court that there is some form of collusion going on," Covert said, "and I see additional evidence of that today."

The state believes it's just another legal stratagem cooked up by the stepfather.

At his stepson's trial earlier this month, a shackled Gonzalez told jurors he is a bank robber and he was at the bank that morning, driving a van similar to the one seen during the robbery. Gonzalez said he parked at the bank to shoot up drugs.

But when asked whether he robbed the Capital City Bank that 2002 morning, Gonzalez said:

"With all due respect, I'd like to invoke my Fifth Amendment right on the grounds it may incriminate myself."

Just last year, he denied robbing the bank. The prosecution said Gonzalez was trying to suggest to Beshears' jury that he was the robber without admitting that he was. So did the judge.

"Cleverly, when asked directly if he committed the robbery, he invoked the Fifth Amendment," the judge said. "I think the implication was that he was implicating himself."

During the trial, it was revealed that Gonzalez had access to the materials in Beshears' case and had even outlined a defense strategy.

But after comparing Beshears and Gonzalez in court, the bank tellers all identified Beshears.

Beshears' mother, Terry Gonzalez, doesn't know what "jailhouse lawyer" means. But in prison, her husband "sits there and reads the law," she said.

She left court Tuesday devastated. Her son cannot see his two children, a 10-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son.

"My God, this has turned into a freaking nightmare," she said, "and my poor son is caught right in the middle."

Assistant State Attorney Mary Handsel said Peter Gonzalez was investigated as a "prime suspect" after the 2002 robbery, but all the evidence pointed to Beshears.

The defense will appeal. But to Handsel, there's only one reason why Gonzalez is confessing now.

"He's trying to do whatever he can to keep his stepson from going to prison," the prosecutor said, "but his stepson is going to prison."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or 727 869-6236.

[Last modified January 30, 2007, 23:27:47]


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