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‘Danger Road’ By John Contini- Read Chapter 4 FREE

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danger-roadDanger Road by John Castellano is the true story of ex-Miami cop Gil Fernandez, Jr. who was accused of murdering three men in the Florida Everglades in 1990. Attorney John Castellano, tells his story through the eyes of the man who represented Fernandez in court and throughout his trial.  The story is told from Contini’s point-of-view, exposing the challenges or defending an accused criminal on trial for murder.

John Castellano is an author and Criminal Defense Attorney currently practicing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He is also the author of Feeling the Heat: An Interrogation of the Soul. 

Both Danger Road  and Feeling the Heat are available for purchase at:  http://www.fortlauderdalecriminaldefenselawyer.net/product/danger-road and http://www.fortlauderdalecriminaldefenselawyer.net/product/feeling-the-heat  

Chapter 4 

Armed and Dangerous

 I met the notorious Gil Fernandez for the first time at the main jail in

downtown Fort Lauderdale. Since Vince had just finished singing his praises,

I was primed to meet an altogether different guy than the killer in the

newspapers. Plus, his family had already humanized him quite a bit in my

mind. If he was anything like his family, I knew I’d like him.

The jail was built after I left my job as a prosecutor in the State

Attorney’s Office in 1986. The same developer that built the Marriott at

Harbor Beach built the Broward County jail — for a mere $47 million. But

there were a lot less amenities than at the Marriott. From the beginning, there

were complaints about it being noisy and cold. I could attest to both. The

pervasive cold cut like a knife and damn near froze everything you touched,

despite whatever sunshine managed to sneak through the thin-stripe windows

that lined the jail’s facade. The windows also doubled as a tortured reminder

to inmates of just how much they were missing.

Escape from this jail was made nearly impossible because the windows

were only six inches wide and several feet long. John Fogelman, a convicted

rapist, was the only person who ever tried to escape by way of one of these

windows. This sickie was alleged to have been released from an earlier rape

sentence, only to get out and rape the same woman again. When he was

returned to the jail, he managed to starve himself, allowing his body to

become so emaciated that he was able to contort it through one of the vertical

openings. But as justice would have it, a knot in his tied-together bed sheets

had come undone and he plummeted to his richly deserved death. No one had

to worry about Gil escaping by one of these windows. He would have been

lucky to get just one arm through.

To get into the jail, I had to go through the usual variety of elaborate

security checks and procedures.As I waited, I set a gift for Gil on the counter

of the guard’s desk. Neli had told me that at the time he was arrested, “The

Hulk,” as Gil was nicknamed, had a maroon leather briefcase in his car that

contained his Bible, his last will and testament and a letter he wrote about his

conversion to Christianity. These items were confiscated by the police, which

left Gil without a Bible. From what I had heard about him, I knew it would

be important for him to have one. So, I bought a nice one and wrote a

personal message in it.

I scribbled answers to the almost illegible questions typed by BSO on

several 10th-generation photocopies of forms that visiting attorneys were

obligated to complete. When I was through, I grabbed my accordion file and the

Bible, and stepped back from the desk.

“Sir, you can’t bring that in.”

“Why not?” I asked the jail deputy. “It’s just a Bible.”

“It’s got a hard cover. Hard-covered books can’t be brought into the jail.

Besides, the chaplain gives ‘em Bibles if they ask for ‘em.”

“But I want to give him this Bible because I wrote some stuff in it for him.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t let you do that. If I let you, I gotta let everyone,” the

deputy said, apologetically.

“Even though you can search through all the pages and see that…”

“Look, I ain’t losing my job over this,” he replied, starting to get irritated.

“I understand.” I made a mental note to bring Gil a soft-cover version as soon

as I could.

Harry Houdini get-up

Gil was brought out of his cell and placed in a small, drab room with an

interior glass window that faced the deputies. I was then led down a long hall

illuminated by fluorescent lights. As we walked, a succession of doors were locked

and unlocked by a variety of guards.

Finally, I was allowed to join Gil in the room. I couldn’t help but notice that

he moved slowly, deliberately and with grace as he walked into the room. He was

nothing like the scary looking guy I had seen and read about in the Herald and

heard about from others. On the contrary, he smiled and looked as if he could be

anyone’s polite and gentle big brother. The personnel who transported him actually

seemed to be more deferential to Gil than to the other inmates. They treated him

with a kind of respect I hadn’t seen before between guards and a prisoner.

Gil managed to walk with fluidity, even though he had shackles constricting

him. His feet were bound with just enough slack in the metal chains to allow for

short steps, and his hands were cuffed behind him. Separate chains linked the

handcuffs and waist chains with the leg shackles. Chains also extended down the

back of his legs from his waist area and made a clinking sound when he walked.

Despite this Harry Houdini get-up, Gil still moved like a stallion. He was built like

an Arnold Schwarzenegger and yet he moved with the grace of a Mikhail

Baryshnikov. And if that were not enough to make someone stop and stare, he was

also blessed with those ruggedly handsome and chiseled Latin features. There was

no disputing that he was an incredible sight.

Although from all appearances Gil seemed to be quite gentle, it was easy to

surmise why he was shackled. The jail officials understandably were concerned

that it would take more than a few deputies to restrain him if he were ever to

attempt an escape. Not that he actually had attempted to escape or been aggressive

in any way. They just weren’t taking any chances.

When he was safely in the meeting room with me, however, the guard

disconnected the handcuffs from the shackles at his waist so he could put his hands

in front of him. He was still wearing cuffs, but they were loose enough so that he

could move his hands somewhat freely.

“You must be my lawyer, Mr. Contini,” Gil said with a smile, as he reached

out and shook my hand.

“That’s me, my friend.”

“My wife and parents said you were tall,” he said. “They were right about that.

They also said you knew what you were doing. Let’s see if they’re right about that,

too.”

“There’s the challenge,” I thought to myself.

If he were any other inmate or potential client, I might’ve answered him

differently. But with this guy, I simply said, “I know enough to be dangerous. But

don’t you worry; I plan to be dangerous to the prosecution, not to your cause.” It

was my turn to smile.

“You’ll soon learn that they say I was armed and dangerous,” he responded.

“Whether that used to be true or not, I am armed and dangerous now. I’m armed

with the word of God and dangerous to the devil.”

“Cool, I like that,” I said, stroking his ego.

“It’s very cool. Come over here,” he said as he sat down at the table and

motioned toward the seat across from him. “Let’s pray.”

As I sat down, he grabbed my hands and gently pulled me partway across the

table so I could be closer to him. Then he lowered his head and began to pray. He

held my hands tightly and occasionally pulled me even closer as his voice

passionately rose and fell. Eventually, I couldn’t get any closer. My mind wandered

for a moment as we sat locked together in prayer: “If he’s guilty, I’m holding hands

with a killer. I wonder what else these hands have done.” But those negative

thoughts soon went south. Gil’s style of praying was so compelling; there was little

room for thoughts of anything else. I had never experienced anything like this

passionate prayer that must have lasted for 15 minutes. It was a powerful

experience—at least for Gil.

While we prayed together, I found myself peeking to see if any of my

colleagues in the jail were watching. It was hard to focus on exactly what he was

saying to “Father God,” as he kept calling Him, because I was too embarrassed and

preoccupied with what others were thinking of me. I had only been a Christian for

a short while, and unless I was in church on Sunday morning, I was a closet

Christian at best.

It was a relief when he finally finished and we could move onto less spiritual

— and less embarrassing — matters. By contrast, the discussion of his case was

predictably guarded. We both knew he had no shot at a bond. A client almost never

does in a murder-one case. Of course, there’d be no chance of a bail bond in a case

like this with multiple murders and a ton of television and print reporters sniffing

around.

After reading the Herald article, I knew the arrest had to be a big scene. I

wanted to hear Gil’s account of it. Not only because it might affect the case but

because I knew it would be an interesting story.

“What was the arrest like?” I asked.

“Someone from BSO called and hung up early in the morning on the third.

That’s an old cop move; they wanted to make sure I was there. I told my wife, ‘this

is it, baby,’ and left the house. I didn’t want my family to see what was about to

happen, so I got in my car and just started driving.

“As I drove, a helicopter hovered over me. Then a bunch of BSO and Metro-

Dade squad cars pulled up behind and all around me. Lights were flashing like

crazy, like we were in some kind of parade. I got out of the car and saw the SWAT

team, the Organized Crime Division guys, dogs and the whole enchilada.When I

stepped out, there were shotguns and machine guns in my face. You would have

thought they were arresting John Dillinger. I didn’t resist; I just dropped to my

knees and surrendered peacefully.”

“Wow,” was all I could say.

We then talked about using the otherwise unfruitful bond hearing to get some

early discovery out of the prosecutors. This conversation was boring compared to

the image of Gil’s arrest that was still sitting vividly in the forefront of my mind.

When we got the case details out of the way, we got down to what Gil really wanted

to talk about: his conversion to Christianity. He couldn’t wait to tell me just how

much he had changed when he became a born-again Christian on August 13, 1989,

11 months before his arrest. “The cops hounding me didn’t drive me to Jesus,” he

said with obvious enthusiasm. “It was that hound of heaven, the Holy Spirit,

dogging me relentlessly until I surrendered. Praise God!” he almost shouted.

He then talked lovingly about his pregnant wife Neli and his six-year-old boy,

Gillie. He also mentioned his second child, who was going to be born sometime in

November. He looked sad as he told me that Neli had told Gillie that his father had

taken on a new ministry, working with prison inmates. “He believes his daddy is

ministering to people in jail,” Gil said to me sadly. And from all accounts he was

—although not because it was his choice to be there.

Seeing he needed to be cheered up, I said quickly, “Before I forget, I want to

tell you that your friend, Vince Forzano, met with me earlier and said a lot of nice

things about you.”

“Vince, he’s good people. But if you believe what he says about me, you’re

more gullible than I thought,” he joked.

“Seriously, that guy loves you. He wanted me to tell you that. He also wanted

me to tell you that he’s praying for you.”

“Good, I’m gonna need it,” Gil said, laughing.

 

Every crime but murder and pornography

Then we got serious again. He went on to tell me how law enforcement

had even been dogging him in church. He said they had him under

surveillance as he broke bricks with his bare hands during martial-arts

demonstrations for various church youth groups. “After performing these

demonstrations to get the attention of the kids, I shared my testimony,” he

said proudly. But his testimony wasn’t of the legal variety; rather, it detailed

how his life had been changed by his newfound faith.

“You need to know that more than once I said from the pulpit that I acted

like a rabid dog toward people. I also said my previous life of sin was totally

horrible and that I used to violently go through people. I’m sure BSO will

find a way to use that against me.

“Six weeks ago, I told a youth group at the Miramar Church of God that

I had been involved in every crime but murder and pornography. The reason

I said it was to let those people know — especially the kids — that God will

forgive anything,” he said sadly. “But you know the cops don’t care about

that. They don’t believe I’ve changed. I wouldn’t have either when I was a

cop. They just want to see me fry.”

BSO had tapes of this pulpit testimony, so I made a note to file motions

to exclude the tapes from evidence. It would be incredibly damaging to have

audio recordings of a defendant publicly admitting to how violent he was in

the past.

As Gil and I spoke about the old days — the days before his beliefs and

behavior changed — he had to make an effort to hold back some very

genuine emotion. Seeing tears in the eyes of a mammoth bodybuilder like

this was an incongruous sight, to say the least.

“I’m sorry we have to talk about this, Gil,” I said, trying to comfort him.

“No, I understand,” he replied. “You gotta do what you gotta do.”

It was hard for me to tell whether his tears were caused by sadness for

the victims of his “rabid dog” behavior, or if he was just experiencing quite

understandable grief over the possibility of being separated forever from his

parents, and his wife and young children.

 

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About the Author:

John M. Castellano is a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney who has helped thousands of clients throughout Florida. While building a reputation as a premiere Fort Lauderdale DUI attorney, Mr. Castellano has worked tirelessly to develop strategies to best protect the rights of those arrested for DUI in Broward, Dade and West Palm. However, Mr. Castellano is not just a drunk driving lawyer. He has been a successful domestic violence attorney, drug trafficking attorney, as well as all other Felony and Misdemeanor cases.

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