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Victims' families dismayed by plea talks

Prosecutors stress no deal has been made in a case in which two men were beaten with shovels. Relatives wonder if money has a role in the negotiations.

By BRYAN GILMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2000


TARPON SPRINGS -- Prosecutors are discussing a plea bargain in last March's road-rage shovel beatings.

No arrangement is final, but family members of the two men whose brains were injured by blows from the shovels said Tuesday that they are dismayed prosecutors would even consider a deal.

Neither victim is able to work, and someone must stay with them 24 hours a day, family members said.

Jody Daniel of Ocala is impulsive, easily confused and often feels frustrated or depressed, said Martee Capilli, his mother, who quit her nursing job to care for him.

Luis Collado, 32, of Tampa is deaf in one ear, suffers excruciating headaches and is easily frightened, cousin Tony Tamargo said.

"Luis and Jody have to live with lifetime injuries, and these guys could be out in less than a year," Tamargo said Tuesday.

On March 31 Daniel, his two brothers and Collado were going to help fix up a Tarpon Springs man's boat. They apparently angered men in a Dodge truck behind them by driving slowly to look for a turnoff on Anclote Road.

The groups of men began shouting and making gestures. They got out and confronted each other. Sheriff's investigators said men from the Dodge pulled shovels from the bed of the truck and beat Daniel and Collado.

All the suspects were charged with attempted murder.

The deal being discussed would allow defendants Theofilos Mamouzelos and Christopher Stamas, both 19 and from Tarpon Springs, to plead guilty to attempted voluntary manslaughter, Tamargo confirmed Tuesday.

Under the terms of the proposed plea, Mamouzelos would be sentenced to 23 months in prison, and Stamas would receive 20 months. They could serve less time if paroled. Michael Saroukos, 24, also from Tarpon Springs, would plead guilty to being an accessory after the fact and receive probation.

"Honestly, I feel the time doesn't fit the crime," Tamargo said.

The suspects would also agree to pay financial restitution to the victims, something Capilli views as an attempt to buy the victims' cooperation.

"My son is not for sale -- at any price," she said. "What he has lost, he'll never regain."

The defendants' families have been able to hire private attorneys. The fathers of Stamas and Saroukos are prominent businessmen in Tarpon Springs. Both victims' families wonder if wealth and prominence are playing a role in plea negotiations.

"No. Absolutely not," Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said Tuesday.

With the negotiated plea, the two men accused of wielding the shovels would still serve prison time, but substantially less than if convicted at trial, Bartlett acknowledged.

He spoke in the absence of Assistant State Attorney Bob Lewis, who has handled the plea negotiations. Bartlett said he did not know the possible range of sentences for the original charge.

Bartlett noted that the plea would remove the possibility that the defendants could be acquitted at trial. Evidence gathered in preparation for the scheduled Feb. 29 trial could be used to argue that the March 31 incident was a mutual fight, not an attack, he said.

"They have made a proposal and we'll present it to the victims, but nothing is in concrete," Bartlett said.

Mamouzelos' attorney, George Tragos, declined to comment. Stamas' attorney, Charles de Vlaming, confirmed that he is talking with prosecutors about a plea.

"The state attorney's position has always been and remains that there would have to be a period of incarceration in state prison," de Vlaming said. "I do think (prosecutors) have realized ... that the facts weren't as strong as the charges that they've filed."

Saroukos' attorney, Jeff Brown, said his client would expect to be acquitted at trial and will not plead guilty to any charge involving a prison sentence.

The victims' families are to meet with prosecutors today. Tamargo said he is willing to listen but has serious concerns.

Capilli hopes to persuade prosecutors to try the case because in the plea agreement, "money speaks louder than justice."

"I want justice to speak louder than money."

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